Nova Scotia

Student scientists pitch sugar to de-ice roads and AI to spot cancer

Some of Nova Scotia's brightest young scientists and inventors showed off their projects Thursday before heading to Ottawa to meet peers from across Canada.

40 of Nova Scotia's brightest students gather in Halifax ahead of national competition

Rob Thacker said the fair will help students present often-complex ideas in a way that impresses the national judges. (CBC)

Some of Nova Scotia's brightest young scientists and inventors showed off their projects Thursday before heading to Ottawa to compete with peers from across Canada.

About 10,000 students take part in science fairs in Nova Scotia each year, with about 1,000 moving onto regional fairs. Only 40 are selected to represent the province at the national level. 

Those students gathered at Saint Mary's University for the Nova Scotia Youth Experience Showcase. Rob Thacker, the director of science outreach at SMU, said it's about preparing the local winners for the national stage. 

"They're really learning more presentation skills as part of this event, and that's the key thing. Because obviously going to nationals is really about presenting as best you can, convincing your judges you've got this great project," he said. 

CBC News spoke to three students about their projects. 

Sugar to de-ice our roads?

Lyza Ells of Antigonish's Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School looked at better ways to keep our roads ice-free. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Lyza Ells of Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish wondered what would happen if Nova Scotia used more sugar and less salt to clear its roads in the winter. 

"My project is looking at the effects of different de-icers on roadside vegetation," she said. She compared salt to sugar and then looked at the best combination. She tested them on new grass and previously established grass. 

"I found that the high concentrations of salt that we're using now have a detrimental effect on roadside vegetation, but also that a complete switch to sugar would have a negative effect on new growth," she said. 

She concluded combining sugar and salt at a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio would melt road ice, be less corrosive on vehicles and less harmful to roadside vegetation than salt alone. 

AI that can diagnose pancreatic cancer

Om Agarwal of Citadel High School wants to improve how we detect pancreatic cancer. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Om Agarwal of Citadel High School in Halifax created a computer program to diagnose pancreatic cancer.

"I basically designed a software, an artificially intelligent software, that facilitates detection of pancreatic cancer at its earliest stages," he said. 

The software detects patterns in symptoms that are too complex for a human to notice. You'd present your symptoms to the doctor and the doctor's pathology report would be entered into the software. 

"I see this system as radically preventing the misdiagnosis, as well as the late diagnosis, of pancreatic cancer," he said. "It could potentially save thousands of lives."

Drink your shower

Stephanie Miller of Riverview High School looked at reducing waste water from showers. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Stephanie Miller of Riverview High School in Cape Breton focused on saving shower water. 

"For my project I designed and tested a water filtration system that would be added into a closed-circuit shower that would eliminate all of the water that would previously have been wasted," she said. 

The post-shower water goes through a filter of activated coconut carbon charcoal, sand, volcanic mineral granules and mineral stone layers. It takes five minutes to clean the water well enough that you can drink it. 

"This would be an easy transition for the ordinary household. All of the materials are found in the existing shower. The only thing you'd have to change is adding the filtration system and reconfiguring the copper pipes."

Cream of the crop

The Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa will feature projects on science, technology, engineering, and math from about 500 students. It runs May 16 to 18. 

They compete for nearly $1 million in awards, prizes and scholarships.