Asking a question like “why would a teenager spend time thinking about kudzu?” Makes me wonder if everyone reading this is familiar with the vine that takes over trees and acres of land throughout the south.
The vine was brought to the US as part of a US government trial in finding plants that would help curb soil erosion. But things went awry and well…. kudzu went out of control. For me, growing up Southern, kudzu was something we would see when we hit the road. I can remember playing games about what you could see in kudzu covered trees just like the game of what you imagine in cloud formations.
As a sixth grader, I never sat there wondering what I could do to change that situation. Thinking about ways I could help reverse the issues with this invasive species. Luckily there are children far more motivated than I.
During the National FFA Convention, I met someone who saw a problem and did think he could make a difference.
At 19, he has spent several years not only thinking about how much more productive land covered by kudzu could be, he has been working on methods of addressing the problem. He started his research when he was in sixth grade. Seriously. I don’t want to remember what I was doing in sixth grade but I am sure I am a total slacker in comparison.
Jacob has been trying various gases as control agents. Looking for what works, what doesn’t. His program to eradicate kudzu has been successful in so many ways and yet he enthusiastically talks about the current challenges he is facing and what he is trying next to overcome those challenges.
He spent part of his time at the National FFA convention talking with others about the research he has been doing, about the potential it has, about his enthusiasm for the scientific process and discovery and enjoying all the other things the convention had to offer.
As I introduced him to some people I had recently met during the World Food Prize activities, he spoke to the potential impact of us recovering ground from something so invasive. About how farmers could once again be stewards of the land. He hasn’t found the key that will result in his being able to put his research to work on lots of acres, but he is working on it. And he is pursuing lots of other lines of scientific inquiry too!
And although it would be easy for me to assume Jacob is an anomaly, I know that he isn’t.
I met him at a luncheon where 16 students with projects the likes of Jacob’s were being honored. Their parents and advisers were celebrating the accomplishments alongside the students. It was awesome.
Students throughout the US participated in competitions about science, business, leadership projects, etc. they competed locally, on state levels and regional levels as well. The 16 in the room were in the final round for national honors and I just happened to be at a table where I met Jacob, his parents & a former teacher. All 16 were doing great things that help grow agriculture as well as themselves personally. And all of them like Jacob are on the path to making a real difference.
See related media coverage on Jacob’s project:
- CNN: Teen inventor combats kudzu menace
- Time: Seven Amazing Teen Inventors
- Washington Post: Fighting Kudzu with helium (video)