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BASEF: Grade 9 student looks for Parkinson’s cure in roundworm Science fair wows experts: better batteries, wind power, among projects

Posted on Monday, April 03, 2017

Hamilton Spectator
By Steve Buist

Science fair

Science fair
John Rennison,The Hamilton Spectator
Grade 9 student Anika Gupta with her science fair research project titled “A Novel Approach to Treating Parkinson’s Disease Using a Neurotrophic Factor and a Synthetic Peptide.”

The title of Anika Gupta’s research project wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet: A Novel Approach to Treating Parkinson’s Disease Using a Neurotrophic Factor and a Synthetic Peptide.

But here’s the thing — Gupta is a Grade 9 student at Westdale Secondary School and her project was one of the entries in this year’s Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair, which wrapped up Saturday at Mohawk College.

“I’ve always been passionate about science,” Gupta said, in what’s clearly an understatement.

She comes by her interest naturally. Her father is a biology professor at McMaster University, while her specific interest in Parkinson’s developed after her grandfather was diagnosed with the degenerative disease.

Using a tiny species of roundworm as her model, Gupta’s research showed that a certain gene in the roundworm and a certain small chemical compound were able to protect the same types of nerve cells that are damaged when a person develops Parkinson’s.

She’s now working with a McMaster professor of chemical engineering in the early stages of developing a nasal spray that could deliver the chemical compound to the brain to perhaps delay onset of the disease.

“I’ve always found it interesting,” Gupta said, “how by researching a topic and putting the puzzle pieces together, you can impact the world.

“It makes me want to explore uncharted waters,” she said, adding that her goal one day is to become a neurosurgeon.

Gupta’s entry was one of nearly 400 in this year’s Bay Area fair, the 57th annual version of the event.

BASEF co-chair Dan Bowman said he’s amazed by the passion students have for their projects.

Bowman said it’s typical to see a student start out small for the first time with a backyard project, “then they catch the fever and they’re back year after year.”

The quality of the work is phenomenal, he added.

“You’ll see some projects here at the master’s level,” Bowman said. “Every year it gets better.”

Just around the corner from Gupta’s project was a Burlington family affair.

Sisters Caroline, 18, Monica, 14, and Stefanie Mahut, 12, had each entered projects in the fair, all of them related in one form or another to the subject of energy.

“With more of our nations needing more electricity, we need energy that’s renewable,” said Caroline, a Grade 12 student at M.M. Robinson High School who plans to study engineering next year at McMaster or the University of Toronto.

Her project — Catch the Wave — examines better ways to capture energy from wave action.

Monica’s project — called GEARS: Gravitational Electricity Accumulating Renewable Storage — looks at a better way to design a renewable battery. She’s in Grade 9 at M.M. Robinson.

Meanwhile, Stefanie’s project, called NEWT for New Efficient Wind Turbine, was a successful attempt at developing a small yet efficient wind turbine that could be suitable for residential use. She’s a Grade 7 student at Rolling Meadows Public School.

“Science is just a fun topic to learn about,” said Stefanie. “It’s sort of a family thing for us.”

The BASEF award winners will be announced Tuesday evening in a ceremony at Mohawk College.

The top winners will advance to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which will be held next month in Los Angeles, while some of the winners will advance to the Canada Wide Science Fair next month in Regina.