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Student's work with algae garners funding

November 29, 2010

Farm life sparked Joshua Wray’s interest in growing things, and while he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up, he knew it would involve growing something. It was a natural fit when greenhouses he set up on the family farm in Missouri eventually grew into a family business.

Today, that business is helping Wray pursue his doctorate degree in molecular and cellular biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, while he works in the Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology (LARB), part of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. He is using his interest and education to learn more about turning algae into fuel as well as alternate uses for algae biomass, such as a fertilizer for crops. And he is beginning to receive recognition for his efforts.

Wray and fellow ASU graduate students Martha Kent and Emil Puruhito have earned an Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative grant to further their development of a business that aims to produce a sustainable organic fertilizer from algae. Edson provides funds, office space and training to teams with up-and-coming, innovative business plans.

This fall, Wray received a National Water Research Institute (NWRI) fellowship for a proposal he submitted to the institute at the beginning of the year. The NWRI helps fund research and projects centered on ensuring safe, reliable sources of water. Wray’s proposal focused on the development of a new bioreactor design for use in wastewater treatment.

“I am very excited for being chosen as an NWRI fellowship recipient," Wray said. "I was glad to see NWRI’s enthusiasm for my project."

The fellowship carries a $5,000 per-year award for two years. The award will help Wray develop new technology that will allow him to collect data in the field and in real-world conditions. This will supplement his dissertation work in the LARB, which is housed in the College of Technology and Innovation.

“I have always been a technical person and interested in learning something new, which happens every day in the LARB, but it is also important to me to have my work be directly applicable in the real world, which my Edson Venture and NWRI projects let me do,” Wray said.

Wray is excited about the birth of a new algae industry and hopes his work will contribute to its development, which likely will help create new jobs, spur economic development, and create opportunities for growth.

On a more personal level, Wray’s work is fusing his lifelong interest in biology and technology.

“I would say working for ASU’s LARB and being able to build a business through the help of the Edson Student Entrepreneurial Initiative, all while working on real-world technology for NWRI, has more than fulfilled my childhood ambitions.”

Written by Tana Ingram

Media Contact:
Christine Lambrakis,