Anastasia Roda, 19
First Steps: For almost as long as she can remember, Roda has loved Barnegat Bay, the coastal area of New Jersey where she spent her summers. At age 15, when she realized just how close the bay was to the Oyster Creek Generating Station, the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant, she swung into action.
The Challenge: Did Oyster Creek have an impact on the bay’s ecosystem? Roda’s goal was to raise awareness in the public and among engineers who design nuclear power facilities. “Once we know about our impact, it’s easier to lessen it,” she says.
The Solution: She spent the next three summers comparing creeks near the power plant with a control creek about seven miles away. She measured water properties from temperature to clarity and did a detailed analysis of microbes and other organisms. Roda found that, compared with the control creek, creeks closest to the power plant had higher temperatures and faster currents, and further downstream they had higher bacteria levels. She remembers how warm the water near the power plant was compared with other parts of the bay. “It was like bathwater,” she says, adding that the creeks’ ecosystems do remain functional, in that they are still host to many organisms. Roda’s work has won her numerous honors, including the American Museum of Natural History’s Young Naturalist Award and a spot in the Intel Science Talent Search finals last spring.
What’s Next: Now at Harvard University, Roda plans to focus on environmental studies, marine biology, and possibly law.