Munster student earns science honor for biofuel cell project

2011-07-01T07:52:00Z 2011-07-01T17:52:36Z Munster student earns science honor for biofuel cell projectBy Robby Howard Times Correspondent
July 01, 2011 7:52 am  • 

Nathan Kondamuri may only be 16, but he's already impressing some of the top minds in the science industry.

Kondamuri took home second place in the International BioGENEius Challenge on Wednesday at the BIO International Convention in Washington, D.C., for his biofuel cell project.

"I was just really shocked and surprised," said Kondamuri, who will be a junior in the fall at Munster High School. "Getting second place was just an added bonus and it's really great."

He cautioned to not get too tripped up in the wording of his project, "A Novel Biofuel Cell Based on Direct Electron Transfer–Type Bioelectrocatalysis Incorporating the Efficient System of Photophosphorylation."

He explained in simple terms, through five months of research, he was able to produce a biofuel cell that creates clean energy.

"It transforms light energy into electric energy by mimicking the reactions that occur in photosynthesis," Kondamuri said. "I used those same reactions and through bio inspired engineering, I was able to come up with this technology to efficiently create clean energy."

The idea came to him in October to try to find a solution to the energy crisis in the world. He began researching alternative resources in December.

Kondamuri plans to eventually sell the idea to the commercial market, but he said he has more research to do before he can take it to that level.

In the BioGENEius Challenge, Kondamuri was selected as one of 40 national finalists. From that, he was named as one of 14 international finalists before being crowned second overall and awarded $5,000.

The most grueling step in the competition for Kondamuri was the dialogue with the judges, he said. He went through three judging rounds at the national competition, and spoke to 10 different judges in one day for the international competition.

"It was definitely nerve wracking," Nathan said. "You're hoping you don't get a question that's going to stump you."

Judges spanned a wide variety of scientists, from top leaders at pharmaceutical companies to science teachers.

Janelle Curtis, vice president of programs for the Biotechnology Institute, who sponsors the competition, said the conversations is what the judges focused on when evaluating.

"That's what they were judged on," Curtis said. "How well they understood the research and the real world applications. Being able to justify the science behind what they did."

Kondamuri already plans to compete again next year, going deeper into his research of how the reactions work. Curtis hopes he continues on in the field for longer than that.

"The real-world application of Nathan's project is phenomenal," she said. "I hope he considers a career in biotechnology."

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