Vancouver student Austin Wang took top honours at the DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition, with his essay titled The Next Sustainable Energy Source-Bacteria.
The David Thompson Secondary student was one of 25 students to win Honourable Mention, competing with over 10,000 submissions. In addition to receiving a certificate, Wang was also awarded a $200 U.S. bond.
"The feeling was hard to describe, it took a while for me to process it," says Wang. "I just felt so happy!"
In his essay, Wang detailed the feasibility of using microbial fuel cells to simultaneously digest waste products and create energy. Inside the fuel cell are micro-organisms that consume chemical energy and produce electricity as a result.
For over two years, Wang has been working on a microbial fuel cell of his own, conducting daily experiments and tests. He believes that this created a personal connection to the topic, something the judges may have noticed.
"Many of these essays deal with the theoretical and are discussions of the application," says Wang. "But I created a working fuel cell, I spent ages designing it and maintaining it. I think that really showed in my writing."
Wang says he began "playing around" with hydrogen fuel cells in Grade 8. But his curiousity led him to explore this new area of energy creation. He was won over by the versatility of microbes and their potential role in promoting environmental sustainability.
"You can purify waste water with this technology," says Wang. "Bacteria consumes the toxins, generates electricity and the water comes out clean!"
Wang also says that if he applies an electric current to the fuel cell, it can produce useful products such as hydrogen gas.
"There's loads of potential here," says Wang.
Wang's placement in the Essay Challenge was just one of several awards he's recently received. On April 12th at the Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair, Wang won the James International and John O'Connor awards. He's now now bound for the Canada-Wide Science Fair on May 10th in Windsor, Ontario.
"I've been on kind of a roll with science fairs recently," laughs Wang.
Wang was also the recipient of the Commercialization Award at the Sanofie BioGenius Challenge, an endorsement of his project's potential feasibility in real-world applications.
"Having a bio-tech company tell me my idea is actually something that can be useful to people in the near-future was a big deal," says Wang. "It's a great testament to the commercial value of this project."
When he's not creating power sources, Wang is powering through musical compositions of his own creation. Wang recently learned that he was one of the winners of the Golden Key piano competition, earning him a trip to Vienna.
"It's made choosing a career direction difficult," says Wang.
Despite his accomplishments, Wang remains humble and continues to work on his projects.
Focused on sustainability, he hopes to have a career that allows him to help others around the world.
"These fuel cells can have massive applications in the third world, especially in areas like Africa, where villages are off the power grid," says Wang. "You can use sources like soil or manure as power sources for the bacteria in these fuel cells."
"I want technology to improve the quality of people's lives and this fuel cell is one step towards that," says Wang.