Richland high grad wins prestigious science award for water-research project

RICHLAND, Wash. — Zoe Gotthold loves penguins, both for their cuteness and their importance to the global ecosystem.

“Penguins live in such extreme environments that looking at where they’re living, how they’re doing, that’s going to tell you how the entire world is doing,” said Gotthold.

That passion, just recently paid off.

In June, the Richland high grad won the 2020 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize, an extremely prestigious award presented to a high school student for a water-research project.

With the win comes a $10,000 prize and a chance to compete in the international competition in August.

Her research looked into oil spills and specifically, oil emulsions because of how they affect her favorite creatures.

“So you’ve got an oil spill but that will also mix with the water around it and that forms what’s called an emulsion,” Gotthold said, “this emulsion is very dangerous because it’s thicker than the original oil, it floats under the surface where the penguins swim.”

After discovering certain plastics can separate the oil from the water, Gotthold started developing prototypes to use during cleanup.

Gotthold is looking forward to continuing her research as a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.