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One High School Student Dreams Big With Industrial Biotech

February 2, 2015
The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has announced winners of its annual “Ideas Matter Essay Contest,” a scholarship competition for Arkansas high school students. Students were asked to submit an idea and a plan for how they would turn it into action to address one of these challenges- (1) improving global health, (2) increasing opportunities for women and girls, (3) reducing childhood obesity and preventable diseases, (4) creating economic opportunity and growth, and (5) helping communities address the effects of climate change.

Among the winners was Taryn Imamura, from Conway, Arkansas. Taryn wrote:
"All my life, I’ve wanted to be a scientist. When adults ask small children what they want to be when they grow up, they usually expect an answer along the lines of 'I want to be a fireman,' or 'I want to be a ballerina.' However, when asked this question as a young child, I answered with a definitive 'I want to be a scientist!' For as long as I can remember, I have known that I wanted to pursue a STEM oriented career."

Taryn’s idea is to use industrial biotechnology to transform agricultural waste into a clean, “green” chemical product. Taryn developed her concept during a summer internship with Woburn, Mass.-based Modular Genetics, a sustainable chemistry company that uses synthetic biology to produce renewable specialty chemicals. Her research demonstrated that rice hulls are a source of cellulosic sugars that can be converted into surfactants, which are a chemical ingredient in household cleaners and personal care products, such as body washes and shampoos. Arkansas is the nation’s top rice producer, which helped inspire Taryn’s work:
“My goal is to create economic opportunity and growth using this discarded material in a newly created industry in Arkansas.  The research that I have conducted uses these rice hulls to create a natural, biologically-friendly surfactant that is a highly water-soluble acyl amino acid surfactant. The new surfactant will replace surfactants that are made from raw materials that cannot be produced sustainably, petroleum and palm oil.”

Read Taryn Imamura Clinton Essay 2nd place 2014 which describes her ongoing efforts to encourage the construction of a chemical plant in Arkansas that would produce surfactants and other chemicals from rice hulls. Taryn’s love for science and drive to help her community made her an ideal candidate for the award.

Additionally, you can find here Modular Genetics’ press release congratulating Taryn. Here you will find Modular Genetics' release detailing the award and Taryn's work.