Thomas Colburn, a senior at Oak Ridge High School has been named an Intel Student Talent Search finalist. Of 1,750 international students that entered this competition he is one of 40 students to be recognized. His two-year project, entitled Enhanced Decomposition of Plastic Waste through Photocatalysis, was mentored by Dr. Todd Toops from the Fuels, Engines, and Emissions Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Thomas felt a personal connection to his project. “My research on plastic decomposition was inspired by being a runner and sailor. Tennessee's beautiful trails, lakes, and streams are being polluted by plastic litter that can then affect Earth's oceans. I wanted to solve this global problem to prevent the build-up of plastics in the environment.” Thomas plans on pursuing chemical engineering in college because, “I want to apply my passion for research to help find efficient and effective solutions to problems facing the world.”
The Intel Student Talent Search is the oldest high school student research competition for science and mathematics. This, its 75th year in existence, is the final year for the competition. Tammy Carneim, a co-teacher with Jessica Williams for Math, Science and Computer Science Thesis, noted, “while we have had students be named Intel semi-finalists in the past, Thomas is the first student from Oak Ridge High School to be named a finalist. We are very proud of him.”
Thomas will travel to Washington D.C. on March 10th to present a poster highlighting his research at the National Geographic Society. He will face a stringent judging process in the competition to be one of the nine students to win scholarships ranging from $35,000 to $150,000. Thomas says he was shocked to be named an Intel STS Finalist. “The competition is highly selective, and I am honored to move on. Being named a finalist has been one of my dreams since elementary school.”