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Bright Future in Energy Scholarship Winners Announced

April 20, 2023

By Adrienne Petrovic

Idaho National Laboratory’s K-12 Education Program announces Abigail Stephens and Elsa Cutler as winners of the 2023 Bright Future in Energy Scholarship Competition. Stephens and Cutler wowed the judges with their research and presentations, which focused on how nuclear energy and carbon capture technologies could move the nation closer to net-zero emissions.

Stephens, a senior at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, earned the top scholar award and a scholarship of $13,500. Cutler, a senior at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., was runner-up and won a scholarship of $11,500.

This annual competition is open to 11th- and 12th-grade students interested in a postsecondary education and career focused on science, technology, engineering or math. The funding for these scholarships was provided by Battelle Energy Alliance.

“This is a highly competitive scholarship program with impressive submissions from all over the country. Abigail and Elsa rose to the top with their research and presentations,” said Jennifer Jackson, INL’s STEM Education Program manager. “They are exceptional, bright students and we are excited to help them pursue a STEM education.”

Students were invited to consider and research a question from one of three science-related prompts and prepare a virtual presentation for an expert panel of INL judges. The prompts focused on nuclear energy, the environment or protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

“It’s encouraging to see so many students engaged in these important issues,” said INL Director John Wagner. “By participating in this competition, these high school juniors and seniors gain a deeper understanding of how clean, secure and reliable energy changes lives. These are our future problem-solvers. And, given the quality of submissions we received, I am confident our world is in good hands.”

Abigail Stephens – Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Abigail Stephens

Stephens researched the question, How do we develop a truly sustainable recycling method that is economically feasible, environmentally responsible and socially justifiable? What role can such a program play in helping the world achieve a future with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions?”

She explored whether limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal power plants through deep sea carbon dioxide injection is a sustainable recycling method.  The ocean naturally captures carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the atmosphere.

Stephens plans to attend Texas A&M University at Galveston in the fall and double major in marine science and marine biology.

Elsa Cutler – Georgetown Day School, Washington, D.C.

Elsa Cutler

Cutler researched the question, “What role does nuclear energy play in helping the world achieve a future with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions? How do the risks and benefits of nuclear energy compare with other existing energy technologies?”

In her research, Cutler examined how nuclear energy is a clean, reliable and affordable energy system.

“To reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the answer must include nuclear energy,” she said.

Cutler plans to attend Wesleyan University in Connecticut and major in the sciences, possibly chemistry.

Where are they now? Taking a look at past Bright Future in Energy winners

Claire Yoo, 2022 Top Scholar

Claire Yoo, a senior at Idaho Falls High School, has committed to attending Harvard University and will major in integrated biology on the premedical track.

Chase Crawford, 2022 Runner-up

Chase Crawford, a senior at Mountain View High School, is planning to attend Brigham Young University and major in electrical engineering.

Jonathan Zhang, 2022 Runner-up

Jonathan Zhang, a senior at Central Bucks West High School, is planning to attend Johns Hopkins University to major in biomedical engineering. Currently, he is a student intern at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute in the Pennsylvania Biotech Center.

Sarah Cole, 2021 Top Scholar

Sarah Cole, a sophomore at Boise State University, is majoring in materials science and engineering.

Andrew Guillen, 2021 Runner-up

Andrew Guillen, a senior at Idaho State University, is majoring in health sciences with a concentration in medicine.

To learn more about the Bright Future in Energy Scholarship, visit


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About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted April 20, 2023

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