Vancouver student takes top $75K prize at international science fair
Published Monday, May 16, 2016 3:03PM EDT
A Canadian high school student has won the top prize at the world's largest high school science competition, taking home a US$75,000 prize.
Eighteen-year-old Austin Wang took home the coveted Gordon E. Moore Award this past weekend at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz. for developing microbial fuel cells (MFC) that more efficiently convert organic waste into electricity.
The Vancouver student said his research started when he was in Grade 8 as a "very small school project."
"I did some work with chemical fuel cells. And in Grade 9, when I found out that bacteria can actually do the same thing, I thought that was just the coolest thing ever," Wang told CTV News Channel on Monday. "That's when I started working on microbial fuel cells."
Wang managed to identify specific genes in genetically enhanced E. coli bacteria that enabled them to generate power efficiently.
"Something like sewage or wastewater actually contains a lot of energy inside the chemical compounds that are inside," he said. "What the bacteria does is actually break down these compounds inside waste and convert that into electrical energy.”
Wang's system can produce significantly more power than existing MFC processes at a cost that is competitive with solar energy -- which he believes will make MFCs commercially viable.
While his project appeared to be the most impressive at the competition, which included more than 1,700 young scientists from dozens of countries, Wang said he was amazed by some of the research presented.
He was particularly impressed with one stem cell project in which a student turned skin cells into kidney cells and constructed a functional kidney. Another project that impressed Wang was an at-home disease diagnostic test that can quickly diagnose diseases for a low cost.
"We're all high school students trying to make an impact," he said. "But I believe that if you work hard and if you're passionate about it, it doesn't matter if you're a high school student. You can still do amazing things."
This is the second year in a row that a Canadian student has walked away with the top prize from the international science competition.
Last year, Vancouver student Raymond Wang won the Gordon E. Moore Award for a new air circulation system to prevent germs from spreading in airplane cabins.
Additional awards were presented to seven other Canadian students at the 2016 competition.