For The Love of Science

posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This week, we’re celebrating the success of a number of Middle School students and their achievements at the Manitoba Schools Science Symposium (MSSS)! The event is the largest annually-held science event held throughout the province for students from grades 4-12, and is held at the University of Manitoba. Each year, over 500 young scientists attend the symposium to present their research to leading industry experts. Students can present their work in nine divisions and in four age categories for medals, special awards, scholarships, and more.

Several groups from Mr. McLeod’s class took their projects to the fair, and came away winners: every Middle School student who attended won either silver or gold!

One team of two, Aliya and Hope, were inspired following a relative having recently been in the hospital for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. She was not allowed to wear nail polish while in hospital, so the students wanted to research the effect of nail polish on pulse oximetry, a non-invasive method of monitoring a person’s blood oxygen levels.

Hope and Aliya recruited 12 volunteers, and painted each fingernail (leaving one bare) with a different colour of nail polish. They then used the pulse oximeter on each finger and took a reading: the higher the reading, the more oxygen saturation in the blood. They found that most colours increased the readings, although interestingly, green seemed to decrease the reading. They both noted that in their experiment, they found that readings within the same brand were similar, and they had used multiple brands – they came to the conclusion that brand most likely plays a role, as well as colour.

Congratulations to Sheen, Jack, and Grace who won silver, Aliya and Hope, who won gold as well as Best Partnership, and Rhea, who won gold plus a cash award (all Grade 7). Additional students who made projects completely on their own time: Kendall, Julia, Lileia, Lohit, Mevan, Ade, Zachary, Lauren, Letta (Grade 6), and Aniruddh (Grade 7).

Middle School students weren't the only ones to get involved with the MSSS this year - Justin and Ethan Lin, Senior School students, also developed projects and came away with awards. 

2017 marked Justin's third year of being involved with the symposium, and Ethan's first. Ethan believed that taking part in the symposium would be a great learning opportunity, as well as looking good on a résumé! He said he learned a lot from the experience. For his project, he contacted Dr. Moussavi at the University of Manitoba, and began a project that was loosely based on some work previously done by university students.

Ethan's project was based on muscle ability following a stroke: the brain sends a signal to muscles, and a patient who has suffered a stroke tends to lose muscle ability, as the brain's ability to send those signals can deteriorate. He built a device that would detect the signal and show it visually on a computer, as well as playing tones from a speaker based on how hard a muscle was contracting (for example, flexing a muscle hard would yield a higher-pitched note). For his project at the intermediate level, Ethan won Best Intermediate Project in Physical Science, a gold medal, and a Certificate of Excellence awarded by the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society (CMBES). He was also invited to a poster competition at CMBES' National Conference to be held in late May. 

Justin's project this year examined the topic of Peptide-Directed Selective Knockdown of Misfolded SOD1 by Chaperone-Mediated Autophagy. His research studied ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that typically results in death 3-5 years following diagnosis. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease and motor neurone disease, and causes the death of neurons which control voluntary muscles. It is characterized by stiff muscles, muscle twitching, and gradually worsening weakness due to muscles decreasing in size, the result being difficulty speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing.

Justin expected that a certain protein, the misfolded SOD1, was related to causing ALS, specifically degrading the protein. The CT4 peptide selectively binds to this protein, and sends it to lysosomes in the body resulting in degradation. There is currently no cure, or a reliable method of diagnosis. Justin's project allowed him to develop not only a more reliable method of diagnosis, but a possible cure! Justin has always been interested in scientific research, and had already worked in a cardiovascular research lab at the University of Manitoba. This year, he wanted to try something new, and conducted his research in a neuroscience lab at the university. In previous years, his research had been done at St. Boniface. 

This year, at the senior level, Justin not only qualified for the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF), but came away having won the Best Individual Biological Sciences Project, the Manitoba Neuroscience Network Award, the American Physiological Society (APS) Science Fair Award, as well as a gold medal!

Each group’s project was completely voluntary – there will likely be a mention on students’ report cards regarding their work on projects, but these had nothing to do with grades, and students took part for the experience and pure interest in scientific research!