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Science whiz sets his sights on changing the world

By Daylina Miller
Published: February 15, 2013 Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Alfie Jennett, 17, won first place at the Pasco Regional Science & Engineering Fair this month.

Alfred Jennett is tall, quiet and humble about his accomplishments.So much so, he speaks about his science fair project, which landed him a nomination to the state and international levels, as if it doesn't have potential real-world implications in sustainability and engineering.Alfred, who goes by "Alfie," is a 17-year-old senior at Genesis Preparatory School, in New Port Richey. His project, "Alternate Sources of Cellulose Ethanol," explored other sources of ethanol that could be used to produce fuel without affecting global food prices.In an experiment that broke down corn, rice, algae and grass, Alfie discovered why corn is used in alternative fuel production: It yields the most ethanol. Rice produced the second most, followed by algae. Grass didn't produce any."Because algae reproduces faster than corn, it may in fact produce more ethanol per year if tested in a realistic setting," Alfie wrote in his abstract."There are so many cars on the road and you always hear people complaining about gas prices," Alfie said when asked about his inspiration for the project. "Fossil fuels are just old plants so why not use new plants instead of the ones that have been in the ground for millions of years?"Aflie's work is taking him to the State Science & Engineering Fair of Florida, to be held March 26-28 in Lakeland.After Lakeland, Alfie will spend May 12-17 in Phoenix, where he will compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest international science competition for students in grades 9–12."Each year more than 1,500 high school students from about 70 countries, regions and territories display their independent research and compete for more than $3 million in awards," according to Intel ISEF's website.Alfie won't tell you that he scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT or that he's dominated the competition in math and science fairs since the fourth grade. His science teacher, Paula Sparks, however, is willing to brag on his behalf.In addition to winning first place at the Pasco Regional Science & Engineering Fair earlier this month, Alfie won four special awards from the National Society of Engineers, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and a sustainable development award from RICOH, Sparks said.Sparks, who has known Alfie since the seventh grade, said: "He's very committed to doing everything on time and well. He does a lot of extracurricular things other than just having his nose in a book. He's very well-rounded."When he's not working on a science fair project or studying for an exam, Alfie is playing basketball for the school and participating in debates for Junior State of America. He's also a member of the National Spanish Honor Society and has completed several Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes, which earn college credits."He's all the things teachers wish every student was," Sparks said. "I'm really excited to see what else is going to happen. He's going to be one of those movers and shakers."With just two months until the international science fair, Alfie plans on re-running his experiments to verify the results and correct any mistakes. He said that the original trials produced varying results with the algae because he tested some right after collection and some after it sat overnight. This time, he said, he'll test all the algae as soon as he's collected it."Because algae is just treated as pond scum, it can be easily collected and turned into fuel," Alfie said. "It doesn't affect food prices and it's considered a nuisance, so collecting it is good. Rice is also produced in surplus in some countries and states so it'd be cheaper and more convenient than corn."Alfie is headed to the University of Florida in the fall and although he isn't sure what his major will be yet, he's sure he'll pursue some sort of field in mathematics or science. So far, physics is a strong contender.