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Two Fort McMurray students have been awarded medals at the Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF), which was held online this past month.
Aarushi Vasal, a grade 9 student at Westwood Community High School, won bronze in the Excellence Award category for a project exploring yeast in bioremediation.
Sai Shankar, a grade 12 student at Ecole McTavish High School, won silver in the Excellence Award categories and took home the Youth Can Innovate Award. His project was a mobile photosensitivity warning system for people with epilepsy.
“It was crazy. My mom was screaming, she was so happy for me,” said Shankar, who was competing in the national science fair for the first time. “I couldn’t see the judges face-to-face because everything was online, so I was pretty surprised and happy.”
Vasal said the CWSF has been a goal of hers since she began entering science fairs in grade 4. She called the national recognition thrilling.
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“I definitely feel very proud of myself and I’m very glad my hard work was recognized,” she said.
Vasal studied if microorganisms can filter heavy metals from water. She tested her theory with yeast because it is inexpensive, readily available and would not hurt the environment. When she added yeast to a solution of copper (II) sulfate particles and filtered the solution, she noticed a drop in metal ions and a rise in filtration.
The field of bioremediation has impacts in reclamation work and protecting natural waterways, such as the Athabasca River. Vasal hopes to run similar experiments on soil environments and research the role genetically altered microorganisms can play.
“I’m looking forward to learning how to upscale this project by talking to industries, definitely the oil and gas industry,” she said.
Shankar’s project uses an Arduino photocell to warn people with epilepsy of harmful light patterns before a seizure is triggered. Settings could be adjusted based on a person’s condition. The sensor can be attached to glasses or clothing.
He came up with the idea after learning about a 1997 episode of Pokemon that caused photosensitive epileptic seizures in some viewers. The scene featured a bright, blue and red strobe-light effect.
During testing, Shankar exposed a prototype to various light intensities and patterns. He did not test the device on any individuals with epilepsy, but asked the community for feedback through social media. The response was positive.
“Since there is no other way of treating photosensitive epilepsy, everyone I talked to really appreciated that I was trying to research and look into this problem,” said Shankar.
Shankar hopes to attend Western University in the fall to study actuarial science. He then hopes to attend the university’s Ivey Business School. Vasal hopes to pursue a career in medicine, taking after her grandparents who are surgeons.
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