Montreal students bring big ideas to international science fair
Four Montreal students are headed to France for an international science fair competition on Monday, each with a rolled up, plastic-wrapped poster board in tow.
The quartet, three in high school and one at Marianopolis College, are set to compete at the Exposciences in Clermont-Ferrand after achieving high honours at the Canada Wide Science Fair last week.
In all, 36 students from across Quebec took part in the nationals after taking home prizes at the Quebec edition the month before.
Does pineapple sting your tongue?
Eloise Valasek, a Grade 10 student at The Study in Westmount, based her project around a simple question, with a complicated answer.
She told CBC’s Homerun that she wanted to find out why pineapple sometimes makes the tongue tingle.
Turns out, it’s because of an an enzyme found exclusively in pineapple called bromelain.
In a lab at The Study, she extracted pure bromelain from pineapples and tested it with six different food items to see how they would break down.
Valasek discovered that bromelain had the biggest effect on foods containing hydrogen protein bonds.
She also credits her science fair partner, Isabella Walther, saying that they did all the work together.
‘The mother of the fruit flies’
Allison Engo, a Grade 9 student at Royal West Academy, focused her project on the health benefits of antioxidants on fruit flies.
It was inspired by her mother, whom Engo says would force her to eat Goji berry soup.
“It tastes really bad,” Engo told Homerun host Sue Smith.
She questioned the validity of the hype over antioxidants, widely promoted by Dr. Oz on Oprah Winfrey’s show.
Engo reached out to McGill biology professor Paul Lasko, who took interest in her project and helped find her a lab to observe her flies.
She spent a lot of time with her fruit flies.
To some she’s Allison Engo, who loves synchronized swimming, reads a lot and occasionally eats goji berry soup. To others she’s the mother of fruit flies. (Hydro-Québec Expo-Science)
“I would look at them under the microscope and that motivated me because every day I’d discover something new,” said Engo.
“I learned how to distinguish male and female flies. I would be at the IGA and would say ‘Oh look! That’s a female fruit fly!'”
Engo even jokingly called herself “the mother of the fruit flies.”
In the end, she found that antioxidants actually decreased the lifespan of certain flies.
Targeting cancer cells
Gabriel Dayan, a second-year health sciences student at Marianopolis College, is no stranger to science fairs.
He won the grand prize of $1,500 at the Quebec science fair this year and he also struck gold in 2014.
Dayan focused his most recent project on the body’s ability to fight off cancer cells like those found in acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
He based his research on work that had previously been done by Dr. Carl H. June, a professor of immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania. June’s research suggests that genetically modified T cells injected into the body kill cancer.
The problem with this method, Dayan said, is that the T cells, like all cells, eventually die.
Hydro-Québec 2018 Super Expo-Sciences winner Gabriel Dayan, 19, provided people with a better understanding of the potential uses of immunotherapy in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. (Hydro-Québec Expo-Sciences)
So, under the supervision of Dr. Elie Haddad at the Sainte-Justine Hospital, Dayan collected and genetically modified immune cells from leukemia patients.
He took June’s research a step further by injecting patients with cancer-killing cells that self-regenerate, so the patient wouldn’t need as many injections.
In the summer of 2017, Dayan spent 35 hours a week at the Sainte-Justine working on his project.
“I would see kids who were sick just walk by me. It was heartbreaking. But it really motivated me to continue,” said Dayan.
He was also recently accepted into the Université de Montréal’s Medicine program, which he described as “a dream come true.”