What started out as a backyard experiment has earned Christine Joens recognition as California's Top Young Scientist.
Joens, 16, was honored by the California Assn. of Professional Scientists for her 11th-grade science project on bioremediation, a natural process to clean toxins from the soil. She flew with her parents to Sacramento last week to accept the award and accompanying $1,000 savings bond.
For her project, Joens combined diesel fuel and soil in a container the size of a shoe box. Then she added microbes and nutrients to the mixture to see how quickly they would rid the soil of the fuel.
"This process has been going on for years, but humans in some cases have been able to speed it up," said Joens, now a senior and student body president at Woodbridge High School.
She began the experiment in February during spring break as a project for her honors biology-chemistry class. For two weeks, Joens let the microbes do their work while she monitored the soil daily and analyzed its fuel content in the lab.
Her results indicated that the fuel content had indeed diminished, proving that microbes and nutrients can be added to contaminated soil as a natural method of cleansing.
"There were much more complex and highly technological projects, but hers won because it was simple and a clean piece of work," said John Grant, the science association's treasurer and a marine biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game.
"She attacked the problem and proved the hypothesis," he said.
Joens competed against 13 other young scientists for the state award. To be considered, the student projects must have been county science fair winners. Joens' bioremediation project had taken top honors in the ecology and environmental sciences category at the Orange County Fair.
Joens, who is now enrolled in an advanced placement physics class at Woodbridge, said she plans a career in science and hopes to pursue a double major in chemical and civil engineering at USC.
"To make it this far has been an honor," she said. "I'm thankful they are recognizing students."