Thanks to Georgia teen Jacob Schindler’s whimsical science fair project, ecologists have a new environmentally-friendly way to fight back against kudzu — an invasive plant that has overrun millions of acres of land in the southeastern U.S.
Schindler, who is now 18, discovered the secret to killing kudzu as part of a sixth-grade science fair project. Like any 12-year-old, he dreamed of space travel and wanted to know what it would take to grow kudzu on Mars. While experimenting with different gases in order to make predictions about the effect that Mars’s atmosphere would have on the plant, Schindler discovered that he could use helium to kill kudzu without harming the plants around it.
Schindler devised a drill shaft hooked up to a helium tank that can disperse helium into the ground to wipe out the kudzu. His research earned him a research grant from the Weed Science Society of America, CNN reports.
Schindler’s work also won him the chance to do further experiments at the Georgia Governor’s Honor Program last summer, where he experimented with novel uses that may create a niche for kudzu as a useful garden plant rather than a pest. He has found that the starch in kudzu roots can be used to make wine, cakes, and salsa.