Yup’ik college student, founder of Alaska biotech company, wins international entrepreneur award

A person inserts a syring in a jar of liquid
Biological siences student Michael Martinez studies ways to isolate rare earth metals from samples of Alaska coal in Professor Brandon Briggs’ lab in UAA’s ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building. (James Evans/University of Alaska Anchorage)

A Yup’ik college student 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 without creating toxic byproducts. He created the company Arctic Biotech Oath to develop and market the technology. The High North Dialogue Conference in Norway gave 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 Martinez designed of using microbes to extract rare earth metals is cleaner than other methods. Rare earth metals are increasingly needed in the construction of computers and other electronic equipment, including cellphones.

Martinez attended the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program in Anchorage.