I am a young student in California and I have developed a theory, which I believe might affect the scientific world, though, through fear of it being taken or wrongly affected by others, I have kept it to myself.
You can cheaply file a provisional patent which will last for one year. After that year you have to convert it into a 'full' patent, or it becomes public knowledge. If you're at a university, you can talk to their patenting department, and if they like your idea they'll pay for the full patent process.
If you want advice on the provisional patenting process, or the full patent process I can help you out. I've filed several.