YCC Tours Heliae in Gilbert

CAZACS Younger Chemists Committee recently organized a tour of Heliae’s global headquarters in Gilbert. It may seem like a tucked-away corner of a commercial complex and some greenhouses, but there’s a lot going on at Heliae! Several students from ASU and a few science teachers from Gilbert School District joined the afternoon tour on Friday, February 26.

What does Heliae (Heel-E-ay) do? They grow unique algae strains on industrial scale, and these algae can do a lot! One of Heliae’s main products, Phycoterra, is used to help restore soil structure and health. After many cycles of conventional farming, even with proper crop rotation, soils can become depleted of nutrients and loose water retention, changing the microbiology. The algae in Phycoterra helps to boost healthy microbial growth in the soil, which improves water retention, soil structure, and nutrient bio-availability. Restoring soil health can promote more robust root growth in plants, which increases crop yields for farmers. Some of Heliae’s other algae strains can produce large amounts of antioxidants or oils. These useful materials are harvested from the algae.

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Our tour was in-depth, and we had a chance to meet a lot of the staff and leadership team! We had a great conversation with the VP of Operations, whom reviewed of the science, challenges, and opportunities at Heliae. We also had the opportunity to talk about the career pathways at Heliae with the Director of HR. She highlighted important non-technical skills that they look for in new hires (hopefully the undergrads took note of this valuable advice!). We checked out the strain development lab, where new algae strains are isolated and refined. We also had a chance to see the small and medium scale bio reactors, where the algae strains are grown for seeding the larger bioreactors. In another area, we checked out two of the larger bioreactors in action. We also explored Heliae’s on-site greenhouses, which are used for testing the algal products on a variety of different plants and growing conditions.

We had a lot of fun exploring the biology end of the STEM spectrum, and it was very cool to see some of the science at this global company in this corner of Gilbert. Thank you Heliae staff and leadership for taking the time with CAZACS on this tour!

 

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