Three Calgary students were centre stage at the Canada-Wide Science Fair held in Regina this weekend, the biggest competition for student scientists in Canada.
Childhood cancer survivor Colette Benko, 16, from St. Mary’s high school swept the competition taking home two scholarships, a gold medal for special awards, and winning both the top health senior project and the top senior project at the fair for her novel research in pediatric cancer therapy.
“Everybody seems to have a connection to cancer one way or another,” Benko said. “I had pediatric cancer awhile back, and got a lot of inspiration from a lot of other patients I saw while I was in treatment, especially really young children.”
Benko was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, at age 13. After undergoing surgery, treatment and conquering the disease, Benko said she became fascinated with cancer in young children.
Investigating pediatric cancer treatment by inducing differentiation in neuroblastoma cells, Benko said her research has revealed differentiating cancer cells can make them much easier to treat.
Benko has been conducting cancer research since 2014 at the University of Calgary, and said she was overwhelmed with the project’s success at the nation-wide fair.
“I’m excited and also feel very lucky that I was able to be acknowledged for my work,” she said. “The projects at the fair are so incredible you can’t help being in awe of all amazing research going on.”
It was 16-year-old Tim Wu’s first time at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, and not only did he nab a silver medal for excellence for his project using eggshells as absorbers for organic solar cells, but landed an $8,000 scholarship for his work.
“I was very happy that something like this could happen,” Wu said. “I was actually a little relieved that all of the work I put in this year was coming to some sort of result.”
A student at Sir Winston Churchill High School, Wu has been working on exploring instability within organic solar cells and developing an affordable and efficient alternative absorber to prevent polymer degradation.
It took him awhile to find the right material, but Wu said his team’s choice was obvious: eggshells.
“If the fundamental biological structure of the eggshell is to protect the inner embryo from external elements, we thought it might work,” he said. “Eggshells are cheap and environmentally friendly, and essentially we can use it as a substitute to absorb the harmful UV light causing this degradation.”
Grade 10 Webber Academy student Crystal Radinski also took home a gold medal and Youth Can Innovate Award for her research in improving the accuracy and reducing the time needed to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.
Judges at the Canada-Wide Science Fair critiqued more than 400 students from all over the country on their intensive, year-long projects investigating STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) problems and developing innovative solutions.