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The Sunflower Project

Could a humble weed be the answer to the uranium problem?


Navajo Times | Cindy Yurth

A Chinle High School science student takes a photo of a water source she sampled to include with her data as part of The Sunflower Project.

We all know sunflowers are beautiful. But recent research suggests they’re not just another pretty face.

Scientists in Korea and other countries have discovered the humble weeds soak up uranium, arsenic and other heavy metals.

No one knows how or why they do this.

“It’s not just like they’re tolerating the uranium,” said Zak Webber, a junior in molecular biology at Brigham Young University. “They actually seem to have some use for it.”

What no one has ever investigated, at least that Webber could find, is whether sunflowers could be put to work taking uranium out of soil and water. For his senior project, Webber decided to pose that question — with the help of people who deal with uranium contamination every day: the Navajo.


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About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at


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