Prince of Wales high school science students win big

Female students making inroads in once male-dominated field

Rebecca Baron’s gold-winning national science fair project was inspired by her mother’s asthma.

The 15-year-old Grade 9 student explored which bacteria in indoor plant soil could most effectively filter formaldehyde from paint fumes.

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Baron expected one type of bacteria that’s known to reduce other types of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, to be most effective, but she discovered another type of bacteria, Pseudomonas putida, worked even better.

“It was big surprise and [my mom] was really excited about it and I was too,” Baron said.

She won the platinum award for best intermediate project and $1,000, a gold medal and a $4,000 entrance scholarship to Western University, a gold medal for excellence, $250 and a challenge award in environment, both in the intermediate category.

“I didn’t really do it for the prize or the money,” Baron said. “I love science in general, so it’s really been my passion. I just wanted to show other people the potential that bacteria has.”

Baron was among three Prince of Wales mini school students who triumphed at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Fredericton, N.B. earlier this month, all of them Grade 9 girls.

When asked what Baron thought about the fact that it was all girls that placed at the national level, she said: “It’s not just girls. There were two guys who did come with us to the regionals fair, too. They did really well there. One got silver.”

But 14-year-old Elena Frie, a bronze medalist at the national science fair, winner of a university entrance scholarship and a bronze medal for excellence for her project that looked at how Cyanobacteria could reduce acidity in freshwater lakes and streams, said the results were significant.

“It was really exciting because women are still underrepresented in the sciences,” Frie said. “It’s the coolest thing.”

Emily Mittertreiner won a bronze medal, a university entrance scholarship, a bronze medal for excellence in the intermediate category and a Statistical Society of Canada and Biostatistics Section cash award for her meta study of data on every-other-day diets, where people eat 75 per cent of their intake one day and 25 per cent the next to lose weight.

Prince of Wales mini school head teacher Andrew Humphries said Baron won out of a field of approximately 520 students.

“The girls are taking over the world of science,” he said. “They’re wonderfully dedicated. That’s what you need.”

Baron said Prince of Wales mini school Grade 8 and 9 students tackle Grade 10 material, mainly accelerating in math and science.

“I just like the idea of asking questions and trying to find an answer and the whole process of trying to find that answer,” Baron said. “The procedure must have been the hardest part for me during my project but it was also the most fascinating part, and then just getting the results [which] were so astonishing.”

Baron wants to create a biofiltration system or a biofilm to see how effective Pseudomonas putida bacteria is in reducing paint fumes from households.

Meanwhile, last month, Vancouver School Board students saw their best showing ever at the SkillsBC Provincial competition in Abbotsford.

Last year, team VSB won three gold medals. This year it won eight. Students won gold in hairdressing, auto painting, fashion design technology, graphic design, baking, public speaking, job interview and workplace safety. Seven of the eight gold winners will compete in nationals in Saskatoon, May 27 to 30.

This story has been updated.

crossi@vancourier.com

@Cheryl_Rossi

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