Students under 20 showcase innovative projects

The Hydro-Québec Montreal Regional Science and Technology Fair makes a stop at Concordia

The 34th Hydro-Québec Montreal Regional Science and Technology Fair (MRSTF) came to Concordia last week.

Montreal high school and CEGEP students under 20 showcased their work in the EV building. Nearly 200 students participated, displaying 128 projects to professionals and the general public.

“This is about engaging in science outside the classroom,” said Loredana Carbone, the event’s organizer. The MRSTF gives students and scientists an opportunity to forge links with experienced professionals, incredible young minds and the public.

“What is impressive about most projects is that they build on existing science and technologies to try to dig deeper and solve real life issues,” said Carbone. From indoor GPSs to treating canker sores, projects were innovative.

One such project was Jason Papagiannis’ “Flashlight for the Blind.” The 10th grader from Kells Academy created a device that uses software and ultrasonic waves to calculate the distance between the user and incoming objects, vibrating when the user gets within a specified range.

“If a blind person were to go out in the street, they’d be able to point it and build an area around them,” said Papagiannis. “They won’t have to use the walking stick to hit everything around them.”

Though Papagiannis’ device builds upon existing technologies, his device is highly customizable, smaller than most on the market and inexpensive. The 16-year-old is working on further downsizing his project, so it resemble a flashlight. His project was given Great Distinction and won McGill University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Award.

Zoe Wong, a 10th-grader from The Study, a private school in Westmount, built upon existing medical research in her project “Biomarkers for Crohn’s Disease.” Her project investigated safer ways to diagnose Crohn’s disease in children.

“The usual diagnostic tool for this disease is an endoscopy,” said Wong. The nonsurgical procedure is used to examine a person’s digestive tract. With children, there are often difficulties carrying out this procedure due to their narrow canals, lack of compliance, and need for full-body sedation, she said. Wong’s project explores the potential of DNA methylation, a mechanism used to control gene expression. This diagnostic tool was proposed in 2011.

“My hypothesis was that the methylation in their intestines would differ from those who don’t have Crohn’s,” said Wong. She also hypothesized if the DNA methylation found in the intestines of Crohn’s patients matched the DNA methylation found in their stools, doctors could potentially use stool samples alone to diagnose the disease. This would be less-invasive than an endoscopy.

Wong’s project was given Highest Distinction, winning Concordia University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Award and the Super expo-sciences Hydro Québec (SESHQ) Experimentation and Design Award.

This was Concordia’s fourth time hosting the MRSTF. The university plans to host again in 2017.

“We are deeply tied to our community and committed to scientific discovery and curiosity. We see these students as our future leaders and as those who will shape technology in the future,” said Carbone. “We also hope that by bringing them to Concordia they can see what we have to offer as a potential post-secondary institution.”

Fifteen projects will proceed to the Quebec final. The provincial fair will take place April 22 to 24 at Aurèle-Racine Curling Club in Sorel-Tracy. From there, 40 students will go to the Canadian final happening May 15 to 20 at McGill University.

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