Reducing herbicide toxicity ... a highschool study

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Reducing herbicide toxicity ... a highschool study

Postby adminjt » Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:47 pm

April 10, 2010

The Ottawa Citizen

Grade 10 science student enjoys creating her own discoveries

Emma Graham's current project which combines plant extracts with pesticides to lower the environmental impact of the pesticide is on display today at the Ottawa Regional Science Fair at Hillcrest High School.

Emma Graham joins other budding scientists representing Canada next month at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in California, Matthew Pearson writes.

When Emma Graham was 9, she saw her future in an unlikely place -- a polluted shoreline in China.

Factories in the coastal city Dalian were spewing toxic waste directly into the Yellow Sea. The water was milky-white and stinky.

"That's what encouraged me to look into water pollution and how I could fix it," she said.

Next month, the 15-year-old joins 15 other budding young scientists on Team Canada at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in California. It's the second time she's made the team.

Her current project -- which combines plant extracts with pesticides to lower the environmental impact of the pesticide -- is on display today at the Ottawa Regional Science Fair at Hillcrest High School and will be entered later this month in the Sanofi-Aventis BioTalent Challenge.

Emma got her big break in science by volunteering in a pharmaceutical lab in Guelph last year.

After moving to Ottawa, she wanted to put her skills to good use. A chance encounter opened the door for her to volunteer at the University of Ottawa lab run by chemistry professor Tony Durst -- which is where she spent hundreds of hours working on her project alongside students years her senior.

"It's really above and beyond what you'd expect to see in someone her age or even your average undergraduate student," said Linda Jewell, who supervised Emma in the lab and is now working on a PhD at the University of Guelph. "Her passion for chemistry is really exciting."

Emma has extracted dillapiol -- which inhibits a particular enzyme in insects -- from Indian dill oil, then combined two molecules of it using a catalyst (something that speeds a reaction), added it to the pesticide piperonyl butoxide and tested the mixture on Colorado potato beetles.

Her concoction was 95-per-cent effective -- higher than the pesticide on its own -- and less toxic.

And, she says, her formula could be added to any common pesticide, lowering the concentration and amount of pesticide needed.

"Pesticides are necessary, but they're quite hazardous and expensive," Emma explained. "(This) is going to have less environmental impact."

According to her, the average Colorado potato beetle eats 45 square centimetres of crops in its larvae stage and up to nine square centimetres each day as an adult. The beetles travel in colonies of millions and can easily destroy an entire crop.

For her, the magnetic pull of science is actually doing experiments. "You're not taking stuff from a textbook and memorizing it, you're creating your own discoveries."

Reni Barlow couldn't have said it better.

The executive director of Youth Science Canada -- which selected this year's Team Canada roster from about 60 applicants -- said Canada is shifting from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, and that is what drive today's young scientists.

"The problem is school science and technology experiences tend to be textbook-based, a little bit on the boring side and tedious, and really don't give much of a glimpse into what it's like to actually do work in science and technology," Barlow said.

Like Emma, many Team Canada participants past and present have focused on environmental issues and often go on to work in the science or technology field.

"The skills they learn are applicable in so many areas," he said.

With pride in his voice, Barlow said a past Team Canada member named Ben Gulak scored a big success with his project -- a self-balancing electric unicycle. It was named the invention of the year in 2008 by Popular Science magazine and slayed CBC's Dragons Den to the tune to a $1.25-million investment in Gulak's fledgling company.

Barlow explained judges, who include university faculty, industry researchers, educators and Team Canada alumni, look for scientific excellence, a solid understanding of the field they're exploring, creativity, originality and an ability to explain what they've found.

They found that in Emma Graham.

A Grade 10 student in the gifted program at Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Emma said she'd like to study chemistry in university and maybe become a doctor -- but only if she's also able to do research on the side.

In the meantime, she plays viola, rows competitively and tries to keep pesky university recruiters at bay.

Ottawa Regional Science Fair

Where: Hillcrest High School (1900 Dauphin Rd.)

When: today; 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

What: Members of the public can view displays by more than 200 students in Grades

7 to 12. Winners will be announced at 4:30 p.m. and move on to the Canada Wide Science Fair, set to be held next month in Peterborough. More info: To learn more, visit www.orsf.ca
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Emma Graham's current project which combines plant extracts with pesticides to lower the environmental impact of the pesticide is on display today at the Ottawa Regional Science Fair at Hillcrest High School.
Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen, The Ottawa Citizen

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology ... story.html
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