Young woman with local ties wins national recognition for work to save penguins
A young woman with deep connections to the Wenatchee Valley, Zoe Gotthold, has won a prestigious national science award — the 2020 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize — because of her work on reducing the environmental impact of oil spills.
She’s the granddaughter of Dr. Bill and Julie Gotthold of Wenatchee and the daughter of David Gotthold, a 1990 graduate of Wenatchee High School and a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Lab.
Zoe graduated from Richland High School and will be studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall, albeit online for the time being because of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Early in life, Zoe said she fell in love with penguins and the more she learned about the creatures, she became interested in finding ways to reduce the impact of oil spills. She read the book “The Great Penguin Rescue” by conservationist Dyan Napoli following an oil spill off Cape Town, South Africa.
“It was a really inspiring book about humans coming together to fight against a giant crisis,” Zoe told me, adding: “I think everyone should read that book.”
Her love affair with penguins has been a focal point for Zoe for at least five years. As she learned about these creatures and how they are impacted by oil spills, she started looking for a way to improve their cleanup. One of the most dangerous parts of oil spills is the emulsion that forms between spilled oil and surrounding seawater. That emulsion can persist for years.
Her winning project, appropriately titled PENGUINS: Promoting Emulsion Nullification Greenly Using Innovative Nucleation Surfaces, identified substances that speed up the separation of those emulsions and used those properties to develop prototypes. She is exploring six different applications of this research.
Her hope is that the research she is doing will revolutionize the cleanup of oil spills and save the penguins she loves as well as other marine life.
“My family’s been very supportive in allowing me to run all these experiments…at home, which means I take over the kitchen and bathroom,” Zoe told me. “At least they seem to be interested in what I’m doing,” she added with a laugh.
Zoe even chose to play the bassoon because the shape reminded her of a penguin, that’s how taken she is with these creatures. Besides the support from her parents, she also singled out her high school chemistry teacher at Richland High, Dale Ingram, for his support and encouragement of her research.
As the winner of the Stockholm Prize from the United States, she’ll be competing with people around the world for the international prize this month.
It was a delight getting acquainted with this bright, energetic and whip smart young woman. Her success underscores what is possible when a student gets passionate about learning and that is supported by their families and mentors.