The days when a vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano was worth anything more than a participation ribbon at a science fair competition have since passed.
Earl Marriott Secondary student, Olivia Li recently demonstrated what it takes to be a finalist in an international science competition.
The brainy 16-year-old got back from the Taiwan International Science Fair, Feb. 11, after spending 10 days in Taipei. She finished the competition with a bronze medal in the microbiology category for her project titled, ‘A Novel Selection Process for the Conversion of Conventional Bacteria into Electrotrophs.’
“I created a process that would allow bacteria to eat electricity. I did that because when bacteria eats electricity, it can increase the production of their waste products. Some bacteria can produce medicine or gasoline. By feeding (bacteria) electricity, they can increase production of that,” Li told Peace Arch News Monday.
Li did her experiment with a device called a bio-electro chemical cell, which she made.
“The design is pretty standard,” she noted.
When she was in Grade 8, she worked with the reverse process by making bacteria that creates electricity. It was recently discovered that the opposite is also true, she said.
When asked to explain the process in the most simplistic terms, Li said: “Bacteria eats sugar, right? Normally they eat sugar. But how they do that is they break down sugars into electrons. What I’m doing, they don’t have to break down the sugar anymore. I’m feeding them pure electrons – a.k.a. electricity,” Li said.
She said, for example, the process could be applied to speed up the production of insulin.
“This will allow mass production of special compound. We can produce insulin. We can produce insulin very slowly with bacteria. With this process, we can feed them electricity, which is cheaper than sugar. It will increase production of insulin.”
Earlier this month, each student was given five minutes to pitch a project to a panel of judges, followed by five minutes of questioning.
Li attended the event with a chaperone and Elizabeth Schulz, a Grade 12 student from Fraser Lake, who received a silver medal in the animal-sciences category for her project titled ‘Investigating the Effect of Coloured Light on the Behaviour and Learning of Lymnaea stagnalis.”
“Some of these projects are crazy, so good,” Li said of her competitors.
Li said her favourite part of the experience was meeting people from different cultures.
“I have friends from all over the world now, which is pretty cool,” she noted.
The students had the opportunity to explore Taipei.
“It was so much fun. All of the people there, oh man. The food! So much food. There is like stinky tofu, the night markets, crazy food like blood and intestines and stuff. I tried a bunch of stuff. I didn’t even know what I was trying, but it was good.”
Li has already started work on her next project, which will be an electricity-free air conditioner.
“Let’s say you create a fire. I can take advantage of those air conduction currents. Lets try to direct the flow of cold air into your house with a fire. I don’t know if it will work or not.”
Li says she comes up with her science fair project ideas by examining global issues.
“What are the problems of the world? One is that millions are dying because of heat exhaustion, heat stress. That’s a problem, how do you solve that?”
The TISF is a science research competition for high school students from Grade 9-12. The competition brings together approximately 250 Taiwanese participants and 40 international students representing 20 countries.
Aaron Hinks - Peace Arch News
White Rock, South Surrey