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Wishing for a Renewable Future

November 26, 2008

Photo of a man wearing a black sweater and a boy wearing a white lab coat; they are conducting a lab experiment by putting algae from a pipette onto a slide.

Colorado School of Mines student Lee Elliott shows David Godfrey how to pipette algae onto a microscope slide so they can look at the cells under a microscope.

David Godfrey arrived on NREL's doorstep hoping to meet some scientists and glimpse the future of renewable energy.

Instead, the San Jose, Calif., teenager found himself shaking a wind turbine blade, zipping around a high-performance race track in advanced vehicles and drilling into the molecular structure of promising biofuels organisms with a scanning electron microscope.

David, 14, is battling T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a higher risk form of childhood leukemia. With help from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, he has been visiting labs and green industry ventures.

During his Nov. 21 NREL tour, David's extensive knowledge of renewable energy technologies and his quiet passion for protecting the planet struck an obvious chord with the lab's scientists and engineers. Enthusiasm for his visit grew quickly and, by lunchtime, David had been joined by two dozen of the lab's top administrators and researchers.

Their conversation over Asian stir-fry and cookies eventually centered on carbon nanotubes — cylinders with walls that are only as wide as a single carbon atom — as a method of electricity transmission because of their outstanding conducting properties and potential to be fabricated in long ultra-efficient cables.

David's New Title

Photo of three adults standing with a boy and smiling. The boy is wearing a white lab coat and holding an awards plaque.

NREL director Dan Arvizu named David Godfrey an honorary NREL research fellow on Nov. 21st during David's visit to the laboratory with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. David was accompanied by his parents, Derek and Marie Godfrey.

NREL Director Dan Arvizu named David an honorary research fellow and supplied him "with all the tools to be an ambassador for the lab" — a lab coat, business cards, and Arvizu's own PowerPoint presentation on climate change and renewable energy.

"We are impressed by your talent," Arvizu said, "but also by your enthusiasm and incredible attention to the mission of our laboratory."

David's day-long tour ended at the National Wind Technology Center as a chilly pink twilight lengthened over the spinning white turbines.

He tried to settle on his favorite part of the lab. Driving in the Neighborhood Electric GEM car generated his biggest smile of the day. But conducting a trio of experiments in the Genetic Engineering Laboratory and Algae Growth Facility was doing real bench work.

Or, maybe it was handling the latest in thin-film photovoltaics, such as the power-generating camouflage fabric being tested in Iraq with the Department of Defense.

David leaned against his mother and closed his eyes, ready for the flight home.

"Everything," he said "was so cool."

Learn more about self-guided tours, resources, and events at the NREL Visitors Center.

Photo of a man wearing a red sweater presents a slide show to a man wearing a suit and tie and boy holding a wooden cane.

Director Dan Arvizu discusses global warming with David Godfrey and how renewable energy technologies can help to moderate climate change.

Photo of a man and a boy standing outside on a test track examining the roof of a car outfitted with scientific measuring equipment. In the background are mountains.

NREL engineer Jeff Gonder in the Vehicles Systems Analysis Project explains critical aspects of NREL's experimental plug-in Toyota Prius to David Godfrey.

Photo of a man in a black suit sits on the edge of a table talking to a boy wearing a white lab coat. On the table is an old radio in a brown leather case and a length of tan camouflage fabric with solar cells woven into it.

NREL's Larry Kazmerski (right) discusses the promise of thin film photovoltaics with David Godfrey during his visit to the Science & Technology Facility.

Photo close-up of a man with a goatee beard and a boy wearing a white lab coat; the man points with a gloved hand to a piece of lab experiment.

Jeff Linger, a post-doctoral researcher in the National Bioenergy Center, explains the principles of agarose gel electrophoresis. David loaded the gel to analyze plasmid DNA digested with restriction enzymes.

Photo of a bearded man in a plaid shirt and wearing a hard hat speaking with another man with long hair and a boy.  They are looking at photographs of wind turbine experiments mounted on the wall.

Site Operations Engineer Jim Johnson of the National Wind Technology Center shows David Godfrey (right) and his father Derek (left) some of the results of static wind blade testing at the center's Industrial User Facility.

Photo of a boy sitting at a table clicking a computer mouse while wearing a white lab coat and large opaque black 3-D glasses. Behind him on an electronic display wall are brightly colored animated images of molecules.

David Godfrey, wearing 3-D glasses, operates a molecular-scale computer animation of an enzyme metabolizing biomass into a simple sugar – a key step in producing renewable biofuels. David was visiting the lab of NREL senior scientist Mike Crowley.