“I’ve Never Been So Excited”

Meghana Rao, a senior at Jesuit High School in Portland, discussed her research on biochar with President Barack Obama last spring. (Photo: Getty Images)

By Lee Anna Sherman

Portland ninth-grader Meghana Rao was scouring the Web for information on biochar when she stumbled across an intriguing paper by a researcher named Markus Kleber. When she realized he was at Oregon State University, just 90 miles down the freeway from where she was a student at Jesuit High School, she emailed him with “a few ideas.”

Before long, she was conducting her own experiments in Kleber’s lab in Crop and Soil Sciences with guidance from the professor and graduate student Myles Gray.

By the end of the 2013 school year, Rao was standing on the White House lawn describing her experiments on the carbon-holding capacity of biochar to President Barack Obama. She was one of a handful of high school students nationwide selected to present their science projects at the third annual White House Science Fair. “I took my biochar stove with me — it’s a little at-home pyrolysis unit,” she says.

The White House honor came on the heals of Rao’s winning a Young Naturalists Award from the American Museum of Natural History for the same project in 2012. She is now a senior at Jesuit.


Read more about Oregon State research on biochar in An Elegant Matrix.