Yup’ik College Student Wins International Award

May 5, 2021

Michael Martinez completes lab work in Dr. Brandon Briggs' lab on October 16, 2019.
Credit James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage

A Yup’ik college student has won an international award for finding a way to extract rare earth metals without hurting the environment. Michael Martinez is a University of Alaska Anchorage science student, whose mother’s family hails from Kotlik.

Martinez discovered a way to use microbes to extract rare earth metals while not creating toxic byproducts, and created the company Arctic Biotech Oath to develop and market the technology. The High North Dialogue Conference, meeting in Norway, has given Martinez the High North Young Entrepreneur Award.

“This is a Yup’ik and indigenous people’s win up here in Alaska,” said Martinez. “This not only shows we’re capable of doing the basic research, but this shows that we can impact a great sector. Not only of upcoming technology, but something people are looking forward to in the future.”

The system of using microbes for extracting rare earth metals discovered by Martinez is cleaner than other methods. Rare earth metals are increasingly needed in the construction of computers and other electronic equipment, including cellphones.

Martinez came up through the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, or ANSEP.