Miami Tech & Startup News

Student Spotlight: Silver Knight winner Christopher Oeltjen is on a mission to use science for public good

Student Spotlight: Silver Knight winner Christopher Oeltjen is on a mission to use science for public good

By Riley Kaminer

Even the limits of planet earth don’t stand a chance at limiting the impact recent Palmer Trinity graduate Christopher Oeltjen seeks to make through technology.

Miami native Oeltjen, who will start studying computer engineering at the University of Florida this fall, recently won a prestigious Miami Herald Silver Knight award in the Science category for helping to create an aeroponic system for growing plants in space. 

The device, called GAIA (Growing Apparatus in Astro-environment), made it through two rounds of judging in a NASA competition challenging high school students to figure out how to cultivate plants in the international space station. Their design was then shared with UC Berkeley’s team, who went on to win multiple awards at the college level of the competition. Now, NASA has plans to use this design as inspiration for tech that they will start to prototype. 

“It feels amazing that I was able to help NASA – probably the most successful space organization in the world – build a bio terrarium that can develop new ways to feed astronauts in the International Space Station,” Oeltjen told Refresh Miami.

Oeltjen first got interested in computer science early on in his high school career, during the depths of the pandemic-induced lockdown, when he taught himself to code in Python. His learning process then accelerated when he took AP Computer Science. 

But Oeltjen’s interest in tech goes beyond the classroom. Along with a group of students, he started to build a solar-powered car. “That taught me mechanical and electrical engineering,” he said. “Working with a car and actually building a car that runs off solar power – it’s really fascinating to see how it all works.” Oeltjen expects younger students to complete the car his cohort started last year.

Much of Oeltjen’s work creates positive social benefits for our community. For instance, he helped to build a wind turbine and implement a blue light system on his high school’s campus. Oeltjen and team made designs and bought the parts to make a prototype. Now it is up to the next generation to deploy these turbines at scale across Palmer Trinity.

“I want to benefit my own community as well through my work,” Oeltjen said. “So those two combined things are really what I aspire to do in college. And I’ll probably join a bunch of clubs that aim to serve people through science.”

Oeltjen also expressed interest in the Miami tech scene, having already completed an internship at autonomous drones startup Hextronics. “It was really cool to see that I could be working for a startup and building great things here,” he asserted. 


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Riley Kaminer