Thunder Bay·Audio

Thunder Bay students earn honours at Canada-Wide Science Festival

A group of young researchers from Thunder Bay, Ont., came home with three bronze and one gold medal from the Canada-Wide Science Festival, held May 14 to May 21 in Montreal.

Students awarded bronze and gold medals for studying cancer and water purification

Jay Chen (left) and Kelly Yang are both in grade 11 at Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate in Thunder Bay, and won bronze medals at the Canada-Wide Science Festival in Montreal. (Cathy Alex/CBC)
Let cancer kill cancer. And let's find a new way to purify water. Cathy Alex catches up with two recent Canada Wide Science Fair winners.

A group of young researchers from Thunder Bay, Ont., came home with three bronze and one gold medal from the Canada-Wide Science Festival, held May 14 to May 21 in Montreal.

Kelly Yang, a grade 11 student at Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate in the city placed third in her age group for her project, Let Cancer Kill Cancer: A novel therapeutic strategy.

Ironically, it was a history project which inspired her research, said Yang.

'Something good about cancer'

She was writing a paper about Sir Frederick Banting's work on insulin and how something produced in your body can help it heal. She began to question whether there might be something redeeming about cancer.

"I wanted to find if perhaps using something poisonous would work to combat something poisonous and if there's something good about cancer that it can kill other cancer cells," said Yang.

After many weekends in the lab, she discovered that breast cancer cells might have a role to play in fighting prostate cancer.

Patience, dedication

A protein called estrogen receptor alpha in breast cancer cells causes the disease to proliferate, explained Yang, adding that the equivalent in prostate cancer is called the androgen receptor.

She found that the estrogen receptor alpha can attach to the androgen receptor and prevent it from entering the cell's nucleus and attaching to the part of the gene that it wants to express, which ultimately reduces prostate cancer growth.

The time spent testing the samples and studying the results was worth it, said Yang.

"I learned many things that are useful for life, like how to be patient and that dedication is a very big thing," she said.

'Like finding a treasure'

Her classmate, Jay Chen, also a bronze medallist, said he took away many of the same lessons from the experience.

But he admits it was the thrill of discovery which kept him motivated during the school holidays he spent on his project, rather than relaxing.

"It's like finding a treasure," he said.

Chen studied whether biomass, such as corn cobs, when reduced to char, could be used like a carbon filter to purify water by extracting metal ions from the solution.

His results showed that grass clippings worked well on silver, and orange peels had more success with palladium.

Other participants from Thunder Bay included bronze medallist Toby Small - a grade 8 student who is homeschooled, gold medallist Micah Windsor-Freeman - a grade 8 student at Claude E. Garton Public School, and Kevin Bai, who is in grade 9.

In addition to the four medals, the northwestern Ontario regional team of finalists won cash awards and scholarships with a total value of $9,250. They were competing against approximately 500 other students.

Left to right: Kevin Bai, Toby Small, Jay Chen, Micah Windsor-Freeman, Kelly Yang travelled from Thunder Bay to Montreal to take part in the Canada-Wide Science Festival in May. (Robert Jackson)