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A pair of scientists from neighbouring Surrey secondary schools won the $8,000 top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF) in Regina.
Elgin Park Secondary's Spencer Zezulka and Semiahmoo Secondary student Charles Wang's project was among four chosen nationwide to win the inaugural 2017 Youth Can Innovate Awards. The prize recognizes "efforts to investigate societal problems and develop innovative solutions through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)." They were also awarded a bronze medal from Youth Science Canada.
The Grade 11 students developed a prototype for solar-powered production of clean fuel by fermenting the bacteria Clostridium acetobutylicum.
"The need for a source of clean energy is pervasive," they said. "Our project seeks to use biosystemic manipulation of a photosynthetic biomass source and a metabolizing agent to produce carbon-neutral fuel."
With further refinement of their initial research, the two believe possible applications could include atmospheric cleansing by sequestration of carbon dioxide, or even the production of return fuel for future travel to Mars. They now plan to conduct more specific studies and continue to improve their system.
"Ideally what we want is to be able to show our project to Elon Musk," Zezulka told CBC News.
The Youth Can Innovate Awards are sponsored by the Calgary-based Gwyn Morgan and Patricia Trottier Foundation.
"We want to champion Canada's young innovators and shine a light on their work by encouraging them and providing financial support. They're Canada's future," said Trottier.
Other Surrey students also brought their projects to Regina. Elgin Park's Winnie Xu; Hyland Elementary classmates Stuti Sharma and Cheryl Chen; and SAIL students Katarina Vuorensiva and Jesse Pound were silver medalists in Regina.
More than 440 students presented 390 projects at the national event.