Earlier this year, Kurtis Carsch, 18, became a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), which seeks out and recognizes pre-college contributions to science by students and their schools. Initially he was one of 300 competitors selected from 1,839, and went on to become one of 40 invited to Washington, D.C. for final judging. Finalists were competing for $1.25 million in awards (of which everyone got some).
While he was born and raised in Bellevue and started school at the Jewish Day School, Kurtis’s family moved to Texas about 10 years ago. He graduated from Texas Academy of Math and Science, a high school program at the University of North Texas on the outskirts of Dallas.
The family retained its connection to the Pacific Northwest, says his mom, Leslie Mickel Carsch, and they returned to Bellevue. Kurtis’s sister, Lillianna, attended Camp Solomon Schechter for many years and the family returned often to visit Leslie’s parents, Jack and Margrethe Mickel. “Oh, and yes, we have had a subscription to the JTNews” sent to Dallas for many years, Leslie added in an email.
Kurtis will attend CalTech in the fall, and while classes haven’t started, he’s already there doing research in computational chemistry. Working under Dr. William A. Goddard III and Smith Nielsen in the Materials and Process Simulation Center in the chemistry department at Caltech, Kurtis is “researching theoretical fuel cells that use natural gas more efficiently than their commercial counterparts.” He’s the youngest person to participate in this research program.
In SoCal, Kurtis is enjoying the sunny weather and some sightseeing. In his free time he enjoys weightlifting, hanging out with friends, and multi-player video games, with Super Smash Bros. Melee a current favorite.
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Rebecca Hoff and her daughter Ilana take a backpacking trip by the ocean. (Photo: Henry Boyer)
There was a bronze medal of a different sort awaiting Rebecca Hoff, who traveled to Washington, D.C. this spring to accept an award. It was from her employer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
An environmental scientist in the Northwest Region of the Office of Response and Restoration, Rebecca leads the Duwamish Team, which was recognized for its work planning natural restoration areas along that industrial Seattle waterway.
These plans are tied into the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site cleanup. Rebecca and the team worked with Boeing and other businesses to plan naturalized areas along the bank of the Duwamish that will be put in place when the work removing contaminants from the waters and river sediment is finished.
“We had a cooperative settlement with the Boeing Company,” says Rebecca, “and also, we are working with a private company…to create [another] restoration bank in the Duwamish area.”
Most people are familiar with the Superfund law and the EPA, the primary site cleanup agency, says Rebecca. But another part of the law “designates agencies to be trustees for natural resources… [providing] the option after they do the cleanup to make the environment whole by creating restoration,” she said.
“Our piece is NRDA, Natural Resource Damage Assessment,” Rebecca explained, adding, “It’s hard to explain this without a lot of acronyms!”
And “NOAA doesn’t work alone on the Duwamish,” she points out. The agency — part of the Department of Commerce, in case you didn’t know — works with the state, the Department of the Interior and the Suquamish and the Muckleshoot tribes. Representatives from each organization work as a council, and Rebecca is lead trustee for the council.
Hailing from Oakland, Calif., Rebecca got her undergraduate degree in environmental science from UC Santa Cruz where, she says, “I was interested in marine science as an undergraduate.” She spent two years in the Peace Corps working on a fisheries project in Sierra Leone.
“I wrote my grad school application on the porch of this mud house I was living in,” she says, “with goats running around.”
She got into the fisheries program at the UW and began working for NOAA part time while still in school in the late 1980s.
“The restoration part is what’s satisfying for all of us,” she says of the Duwamish project. “If you go to the Duwamish, it’s a very busy place [with] lots of heavy industry,” she says. “The vision is not to go back to a pristine river… It’s still going to be a shipping river, [but] we feel it also can support healthy fisheries.”