Madison Nichols, 17, of Woodstock types on her laptop inside her Woodstock home. The Central High School graduate recently competed and placed in the international science fair and is heading to Georgia Tech this fall to study space engineering.

Madison “Madi” Nichols is a young woman confidently working toward a future in science.

She loves science, she loves math. She loves conducting experiments and always wants to see what happens next.  

“Since forever I have always been interested in how things work. I was always building with legos,” Madison said.

Her projects have become more complex since her younger days.

One of those projects landed her at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May in Phoenix.

Madison's home school was Central High School, where she was the valedictorian this past school year. She also attended the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School. 

It was at the Governor’s School that she began working on a project with another student - John Sykes Richardson, whose home school is Spotswood High School in Rockingham County.

They began working on a system to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  

He was skeptical at first. The prototype they built, however, worked. It scrubbed 1 metric ton of carbon from the atmosphere for less than 50 cents.

“To know you are the first to see something happening is amazing,” Madison said.

She said she believes it is a new absorption method and is working on getting a patent for the system.

Captured carbon can be converted into a methane propellant, perfect for a Mars mission where the atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide.

They reduced the cost of current methods of carbon scrubbing by 88 percent, Madison said.

The project earned the two fourth place in the environmental engineering category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Madison has often been the only girl, or one of only a few, in a class or a program.

Teachers or instructors have never treated her differently because of her sex, she said.

“I was the only girl at flight school at Randolph Macon. I was the outstanding flight student of the year, beating out five boys,” she said.

For now, Madison is not flying. She intends to focus on her research. She is heading into her freshman year at Georgia Tech to study aerospace engineering. She begins classes Aug. 19.

Ultimately, she wants to specialize in propulsion and propellant production. Her project has applications in that.

“I am excited. I am ready for it,” she said.

Contact Melissa Topey at