When I was asked to complete a science fair project by my Chemistry teacher, I had no idea about the journey my project would take me on.
My partner, Alexander Sun, and I (Andy Liang) did research on combatting certain types of "red tide" algae blooms. We were mentored by and collaborated with Dr. A. Golnaraghi, a professor working at the Dr. C Suttle laboratory at the Beaty Biodiversity Research Center at UBC. Although algae blooms do not get much media attention in Canada, it is an extremely serious problem that has vast consequences on the economy, the ecosystem, and human health. However, there is no current viable solution for fish farms or beaches to adopt to deal with these blooms.
By researching and experimenting extensively, we were able to formulate a solution of barley extract and a virus to combat algae blooms caused by both Heterosigma akashiwo and Synechococcus sp. WH7803. Our experiments showed a 90% drop in algae population just a week after introducing merely 1000 parts per million of our treatment.
The first science fair we attended was the Vancouver District Science Fair. From there, we qualified for the Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair. At the regional fair, only 17 out of approximately 300 people were selected to advance to the Canada-Wide Science Fair, the highest level of science fair in the country. There were many great projects at the fair, and we managed to clinch a spot on the 17-person team.
In May, we flew to Fredericton, New Brunswick, to attend the CWSF. The week that we spent on the UNB Campus was one of the best weeks of my life. It was a week filled with learning opportunities, eye-opening experiences, lifelong memories, and new friends from all over the country. After the adrenaline-filled judging day, we got to go on tours of the surrounding area, and there were various special events every night.
On the night of the awards ceremony, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. We ended up winning a Bronze medal, and to our surprise, the Ted Rogers Innovation Award. The Bronze medal granted us each a $5000 scholarship to Western University. The Ted Rogers Award paid for us to fly to York University during the summer to attend a STEM Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. There, we learned about the basics of entrepreneurship and how to turn our science fair idea into a business. We also met some extremely inspirational speakers and got to chat with them about their experiences.
After the CWSF, we received an email inviting us to apply for MILSET ESI 2019, held in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. We were extremely excited when our application to represent Team Canada was accepted. Every two years, 2000 people from all around the world show off their projects at MILSET. While we were there, we visited many incredible places, like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and met many new friends, both from Canada and elsewhere. It's hard to imagine the scale of many of the wonders there without being there in person. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm sure we won't ever forget this trip.
A question that many people ask me is how to get started with a science fair project. Many people are unfamiliar with how to approach a topic and how to start to do research. In my opinion, finding the right topic is one of the most important parts of science fair success. With an excellent topic, the possibilities are endless. A good topic should be one that you are genuinely interested in pursuing, and one that solves a problem or improves on an existing solution to a problem. My advice is to identify problems that impact society as a whole, and to try and improve on what is currently being done about that problem. However, many problems are typically out of the scope of a high school student. If that is the case, don't be afraid to ask for help. Emailing professors, researchers, or experts in the field can prove to be tremendously helpful, whether the expert offers a one hour Skype call or more serious mentoring. Due to their insight and experience, even a short conversation with professionals could end up benefitting a project enormously. Often, these people can even provide materials and data that would be inaccessible to the general public.
Science fairs are a great way to dip your feet into the world of science as a high school student. They help you develop research skills, scientific skills, and presentation skills. For me, completing a science fair project was one of the best experiences of my life, and I hope to continue to pursue more scientific learning in the future.