Turning agriculture waste into fertilizer, finding my north star and seeking discomfort
Hi everyone! Wonderful to meet you/see you again! My name is Rachel. I am a 16 y/o activator at TKS working on leveraging biotech to improve yields and livelihoods for small holder farmers. I have worked with gene editing to create super crops for Sub Saharan Africa, and nanofertilizers to increase yields and decrease environmental impact. I’m the cohost of the TechnoGypsie Podcast, and an ultra runner obsessed with pushing my personal limits and finding out what I’m truly capable of.
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“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”
- Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland
I’ve been thinking about this quote that was drilled into me last year at TKS.
‘Have a very specific end goal, and work backwards to find the path you need to be on.’
If you don’t have a very specific end goal, then any path will take you there. In other words, find your north star⭐
After reflection, I have found my north star. My north star is reducing human suffering and improving the quality of life for millions of people.
The problem with this north star is that it is not very specific. I am extremely passionate about it, but at this point, it is just a phrase that I say but don’t act on. I haven’t put myself onto the road that will lead me to this goal.
And as Brandon told us at our last activate session “goals without a plan are just words.”
This was the wake up call I need to re evaluate what I’m working on and set some new goals to get me on the road to my north star.
I came to the conclusion that I am not interested in technology problems (like how to make nanomaterial production cheaper), I am interested in solving social problems, or the ‘world’s biggest problems’ as we call them at TKS.
Since the beginning of activate, the trajectory I have been on is to find the root cause of why nanomaterials are so expensive and hard to produce, and develop a process to manufacture nanomaterials much cheaper. After reflection, I realized that I am not excited about working on this. I was falling into the category of box checking - reading papers and writing articles to check a box. So I decided to pivot to my current research project: turning agriculture waste into organic fertilizer in South Africa.
This project gets me so excited. And I can’t wait to dive into it for the next few months. My goal is that by December I will have an idea and mockup for a solar powered machine (anerobic digester) that can turn agriculture waste (like stocks, grass, food waste) and turn it into efficient fertilizer at almost no cost to the farmer.
More immediate goals are:
Writing an article about the problem of access to fertilizer in South Africa, and how organic fertilizer from agricultural waste could help solve this issue.
Learn about the gaps in this idea - why hasn’t this been done?
Get connected with people working in the space
A few thoughts I’ve been mulling over and realizations I’ve had from talking to mentors and consuming content…
There is no such thing as balance. Depending on what’s going on in your life, one thing will take all your time and energy at the moment, and everything else will be put on the back burner. (Ex: you have a big exam tomorrow. Your #1 priority becomes studying for the exam and you sacrifice other areas of your life (like healthy eating, exercise, sleep, and other projects) to prepare for the exam.) Our lives are in constant fluctuation. It makes no sense to strive for ‘balance’ when balance doesn’t exist. Instead we should strive for satisfaction in our lives - the day-to-day feeling when you made progress towards your goals, put time into relationships that matter to you, and feel satisfied and content. (Inspiration from Robin Arzón on the Rich Roll Podcast)
Do what makes you feel good. It sounds simple, but not many people do this. If you are unhappy or de motivated, it is probably a sign that you are not working on the right thing. (This doesn’t just go for work, it goes for your lifestyle, hobbies, relationships and projects. If you don’t enjoy _x_, what’s the point of doing it?)
Seek pain and discomfort! Most people are scared of pain and avoid it at all costs. I’m starting to learn more than ever, that the only way to grow and actually improve is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and seek pain. “If you don’t have any discomfort in your life, how do you know when you feel good?” - Lazarus Lake, creator of the Barkley Marathons, the hardest ultramarathon in the world.
Super excited to share my reflections on running my first ultramarathon in this article. ⬇️ I talk about the un-glamourous parts of ultra running, and take you on the 50km journey with me through the trails and to the finish line.
Coke, Cramps, and Cedar Trees: Running My First 50km Ultramarathon
Wrote an article about the problems of nanomaterial production that limit scalability and increase costs. Read the article below.⬇️
Ciara Sejour and I have had a full month of insightful conversations on the TechnoGypsie Podcast. From design impact with Sonya Kotov, to a deep dive on food waste with Eva Goulbourne which will be released this weekend (check the website so you can listen once it's out!)
Other cool things
I participated in a 14 hour hackathon at TKS with the goal of applying material science to solve a technical problem that is holding the field back. My team and I focused on the problem of creating cheap renewable diesel by unlocking the power of green hydrogen. Check out our memo here!
Worked on a 2 week patent sprint with TKS to learn how to read and understand patents. My team and I choose this patent about introducing silicon nanowires into biosensors to increase sensitivity, allowing for accurate diagnosis and detection of diseases early on. At the end of the 2 weeks I presented our patent to our cohort @TKS. View our standalone deck here.
I will be spending the next few months working on my organic fertilizer project. By next month’s newsletter I will have some content to share with you and updates on how it is going.
I have committed to running an 100km race in June! I have no experience at all training for and running a race this distance, so I am extremely excited to push myself to places I have never been before and discover my new hardest thing! It will be a journey learning how to train and prepare for a race of this magnitude, and I am beyond excited to give it everything I got!
And that, my friends, is what I have been up to this month! It has been a jam packed month (as always) full of reflecting, research, learning, running, failing → growing.
Thank you for sticking with me till the end! See you all in 30ish days. Have a wonderful November!
Thanks for reading! ❤️Rachel
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Rachel you’re incredible
Rachel, I don't know how I just found your Newsletter!! I love it so much, keep doing amazing stuff, you're incredible <3