Austin Fullmer, a ninth grader from Flintridge Preparatory School, advances to the semifinals of the Discovery Channels 2004 search for the nations top young scientists.
He was selected out of a pool of 75,000 science fair participants.
"These students exhibited an excellent maturity that is truly remarkable," said Steve Jacobs, DCTSC head judge. Fullmer's project was "Can blue-green algae be used as a substitute for a hydroponics (growing plants without soil) solution, which can sustain plant growth?" He grew several different cultures of blue-green algae's and set up a hydroponics (soil-less plant growing system) experiment to scientifically compare the average growth rates of plant seedling in the different blue-green algae's solutions, both living and dead. He simultaneously ran the experiment against Bacteria Bio-solutions, Aquaponics and professional hydroponics solutions. Austin's experiment showed that most living blue-green algae's that he used performed better than the professional solutions. The blue-green algae gloeocapsa plants grew on an average 20 percent taller and 32 percent heavier that the hydroponics solution. Fullmer said the research is significant when you consider that this simple 3.5 billion year old prokaryote, which carries out photosynthesis, can be one of the keys to supporting life on Mars. Yes, bluegreen Algae may be used to generate oxygen, hydroponics solutions, food, essential vitamins, proteins, break down human waste, and be a source of fuel on Mars. He thinks it's ironic, because he has a theory that blue-green algae originally came from Mars, possibly the result of huge meteor forcing water off the planet. (The surface of Mars appears that water erosion once took place.) Could blue-green have survived the trip? It may have happened, and it introduction was just what earths needed to start a new biosphere. It has DNA, essential amino acids, vitamins, nutrients, simple cell structure, a quick enough turnover of population, for genetic transformation due to natural selection, and it creates about a pound of oxygen for every pound of new cell growth.
Fullmer also invented a new hydroponics medium the "Austin Tubule," which makes is easy to measure the height and weight of plants for scientific data collection. (He is sure that the fossil fuel oil that we consume in our cars today is the result of huge blue-green algae blooms when the oceans were less salty. These blooms probably died when most of the much-needed nutrients were depleted, as he found in his own experiments.) He also wants to warn people that blue-green algae produces over 70 percent of the oxygen that we breathe today and he fears that the biggest threat of nuclear war is the radiation killing off the blue-green algae, thereby cutting off our oxygen supply. He said maybe something happened to the destroy the eco system of the bluegreen algae million of years ago, resulting in the dinosaurs dying off because of the resulting lack of oxygen, increased methane gas and poisoned water from all the dead algae.
Fullmer is currently working on turning blue-green algae into an alternative fuel source. He discovered dried blue-green alga generates lots of heat after burning it. This fuel could be a useful byproduct of a commercial blue-green algae hydroponics system, because the algae must be filtered off to maintain a certain population for optimum plant grown. Algae can double in population every 24 hours, he said.