Hood Students to Compete in National AlgaePrize Research Competition

Member of the BlazerBloom team sits at a table with her colleagues, laughing

Hood's new BlazerBloom sustainability team will participate in the Department of Energy's AlgaePrize research competition

BlazerBloom Sustainability Team


  • Sustainability Studies (B.A.)


  • Biology

A sustainability team from Hood College was chosen as one of just 15 finalists in the 2023-25 AlgaePrize competition, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition is open to the high school to the graduate level and encourages teams to propose, develop and design ideas for technologies employing algae. The team from Hood College, called BlazerBloom, consists of faculty members Craig Laufer, Ph.D., Drew Ferrier, Ph.D., and Daehwan Kim, Ph.D., and students Kayla Russell ’24, Garrett Hitchens ’23, Riana Caldwell ’25, Ridley Little ’25, Josephine Sasse ’25 and Bella DiPietrantonio ’25.

Members of the BlazerBloom team during a research meeting
Members of the BlazerBloom team during a group research meeting

Each of the 15 finalists is awarded $10,000 to conduct research and then has 15 months to put their ideas to the test. In spring 2025, all finalists will meet at a convention hosted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, where they will present their findings and compete to be the AlgaePrize grand champion. The grand champion receives prize money and a trophy as well as national recognition.

For their research, BlazerBloom plans on binding naturally magnetic bacteria to algae. Then, when the algae photosynthesize, the sugar that is produced can be fermented into ethanol, which can be used as a biofuel. Fuel made from algae is an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels; however, the process of removing the algae from the liquid ethanol is difficult. By binding the algae to magnetic bacteria, the team hopes to be able to use magnets to pull out both the bacteria and the algae that are attached to it, making the extraction process easier and more efficient.

Headshot of Garrett Hitchens '23
Garrett Hitchens '23

The opportunity to create a new way of harvesting biofuel is exciting for faculty and students alike. Graduate student Garrett Hitchens said it was just too good to pass up. 

“The opportunity to conduct impactful research that will be shown on a national stage is invaluable,” Hitchens said.

 Hitchens hopes his experiences in conducting research and working in the lab will help him gain practical skills for his future career.

Headshot of Josephine Sasse '25
Josephine Sasse '25

For junior Josephine Sasse, participating in the AlgaePrize competition will not only be beneficial for her, but also for the sustainability major and Hood College. 

"Some see [sustainability studies] as more of a soft science," Sasse said, "but I am excited to push the boundaries and learn from this challenge." 

Participating in the competition and conducting research gives Sasse hope for a more sustainable future.

Headshot of Craig Laufer, Ph.D.
Craig Laufer, Ph.D.

Craig Laufer, Ph.D., professor of biology, hopes the experience will be enjoyable for everyone involved. He is excited to assist the students in their research and watch them grow. 

"This is terrific preparation for students interested in employment in the growing field of renewable energy," Laufer said. 

“And also for those who want to continue their studies in graduate school.” This unique learning opportunity will give students the chance to work on a real-world problem and help them develop the skills necessary for conducting research and working in a lab.

BlazerBloom will continue with their research through the summer and fall of 2024. In spring 2025, they will travel to Golden, Colorado, where they will compete with the other finalists for the chance to win it all. Hitchens says the competition will open the door for future opportunities and bring more recognition to Hood College’s sustainability program.