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The future’s so bright…for Lambton County Science Fair participants

Imperial employees help develop future scientists, engineers

The Lambton County Science Fair (LCSF) is a vital opportunity in the development of future scientists, researchers and engineers that drive so much of the innovation and technology behind Sarnia-area industry.

Over 30 local Imperial employees and co-op students participated in spring 2017 as science fair judges, reviewing 75 projects presented by 110 local students in grades three to 12. Each came away with the feeling that the future is in very good hands.

Photo — Devarsh Shah, left, and Imperial employee Bryce McGarvey

“The science fair is about a lot more than just science. This structure helps develop communication and presentation skills, and using the scientific method to think through things,” says Bryce McGarvey, PhD, a senior research associate at Imperial’s Sarnia research centre who has volunteered with the fair for 19 years, including as a LCSF committee member for the last 10 years.

Imperial has supported the Fair continuously for over 20 years. In addition to volunteers, the company contributed $2,500 to the 2017 event to help the top five winning students travel to the national competition held in Regina in May.

For years it was tradition that every school held a science fair, but gradually support has been reduced. “There’s very little chance for students who really like science, technology and innovation, and with the gift of intelligence, to explore those things,” says Stephanie Lobsinger, long-time chair of the science fair  committee. “Now the only place in the region to do a science fair project is at our program.”

The Fair’s sustainability and growth is due in large part to donations and volunteer support from Imperial and other area companies.

“The industry volunteers are so important. It’s great for the kids to be able to speak to somebody who understands what they’ve done,” Lobsinger says.

From nutritional evaluations to greening the environment and artificial intelligence, projects at the Fair are as diverse as the students themselves, and the varied careers they will pursue in a few short years.

And it all starts with having their curiosity piqued and their enthusiasm for science rewarded at the fair.

“Science is like magic to these kids,” says Lobsinger. “Think of how much we need engineers and operators to run our local plants and how they drive our communities. We need researchers, doctors, X-ray technicians. If we didn’t have the Fair some of these kids would end up looking to other careers.”

Local winner shines at national competition

Devarsh Shah, winner of the ‘Best of Fair’ award sponsored by Imperial, is one example of the social impact science fair participants can and will continue to make when their enthusiasm for science is nurtured.

The 14-year-old Grade Nine student at Northern Collegiate Institutional Vocational School presented a non-invasive glucose monitoring system so diabetics – like one of his friends – don’t have to endure the pain and hassle of finger-prick blood testing.

“Skin provides a unique gateway. I pass a low-level electrical current through the skin which ionizes glucose molecules. Topical electron gels support a series of chemical reactions that allow me to measure the value of electrons transmitted, which provides a glucose reading,” says Shah, who, as a top-five LCSF finisher, went on to win a bronze medal in the intermediate division at the national competition. His electrical reverse iontophoresis project also earned a special award at nationals for the medical science project that best used lab testing.

In preparing for the LCSF, Shah conducted 120 experiments to understand and mitigate the many things that can impact a glucose reading, from perspiration to variations in PH balance. “It’s really hard to relate lab tests to real life,” he says, but got as close as possible with a 3D-printed prototype and analysis that indicated a 98.7 percent reliability rating, besting many common commercial finger-prick glucometers that rate a mere 91.2 percent.

Making it relevant

“To demonstrate your idea and convince other people of its worthiness, that’s how science and technology advance,” says McGarvey.

“Lots of people have great ideas but maybe not the background to carry an idea through to proof of concept. So, a science fair project isn’t just about a flashy poster board or reams of data. Students have to put it all together in a way that is sound scientifically and presented in a way that people understand and appreciate.”

Shah was inspired to research glucose testing when he noticed a diabetic friend struggling to conduct up to seven blood tests throughout the day. He found a national survey that said 80 percent of Type 1 diabetics don’t test as often as needed because they can be insecure testing in public.

“I learned that the current glucose testing method hasn’t changed from the 1970s when it was invented. It’s still a needle prick. I thought, everything has an update button these days, so why doesn’t this system have one?”