B.C. teenager wins top prize at international science fair

May 14, 2016

May 14, 2016 | Maryse Zeidler · CBC News | A Grade 12 student from Vancouver, B.C., has won the top prize at the world’s largest high school research competition. Vancouver student Austin Wang, says he’s been tinkering with his project since Grade 9

Austin Wang, 18, won the $75,000 U.S. Gordon E. Moore Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz., for developing bacteria that speeds up the process of converting organic waste into electricity.

“I didn’t really believe it at first. All my teammates were screaming, and it was just a surreal moment,” said Wang.

The award is given to the best science project at the fair, and Wang said he was up against some tough competition from the more than 1,700 young scientists from 77 countries.

“The calibre of the projects here is absolutely incredible,” Wang said. “Some of the work that these other high school students are doing was blowing me away.”

Some of those projects included a student from Victoria who developed a method to diagnose diseases by using an at-home test, and another student who used stem cells to help create new kidneys.

But the 1,000 judges evaluating the projects at the fair decided Wang’s was the best one.

‘I just kept asking questions’

Wang said the most immediate application for his project is to get energy from sewage and wastewater treatment, which he says contains 10 times the energy used to treat it.

He said he’s been tinkering with his project since Grade 9, when he developed it for a school science fair at David Thomson Secondary.

“The answers that I found to my questions at the beginning just sparked more questions, and I just kept asking questions and doing more and more research until I got to this point,” he said.

“Without the support and help from my teachers all of this would not be possible, starting from the elementary school level,” he said.

Wang will be studying engineering at Princeton this fall, where his goal is to “just pursue what I love to do.”

This is the second time in a row that a student from Vancouver has won top prize in the competition. Last year, Raymond Wang won for his invention that curbs disease transmission on airplanes.