UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 4 |
Apr. 7, 2005
Science Fair Put Prof on Track for UBC
By Hilary Thomson
Curiosity, creativity and an “off-the-wall” way
of looking at things will be found at UBC’s student
recreation centre when 500 high school students present their
projects for judging at the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF),
to be held May 15-22.
“The enthusiasm of the students is just overwhelming,”
says chief judge Judith Soon, an assistant professor in the
Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “They have an off-the-wall
approach that yields some amazing conclusions.”
An annual event of Youth Science Foundation Canada, the CWSF
-- last held at UBC in 1991 -- brings together students in
grades 7-12 who represent top-ranked competitors from almost
100 regional fairs. Held since 1981, the fair draws together
more kids than are involved in hockey in this country, says
Soon, citing an annual CWSF involvement of about 500,000 students.
In 1991, one of those kids was Leonard Foster, now a UBC
assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.
Raised in the northern B.C. town of McBride, Foster was encouraged
by his father, a science teacher.
“I was always interested in the world around me,”
says Foster, who joined UBC in January 2005. “As a kid,
I got involved in the fair because experiments were fun. Winning
some prizes and getting to travel kept me motivated.”
As a high-school participant, Foster -- one of a total of
400 judges Soon will be recruiting for this year’s event
-- submitted entries that examined how heat affects tree seeds,
in an investigation of regrowth after forest fire. Subsequent
projects included experiments with propolis -- a honeybee
product with antibiotic and antifungal properties -- derived
from his mother’s honeybee colonies.
Competing at the regional level for nine years and at the
national level for six years, Foster won a silver medal in
the last two years of national competition, as well as the
award for the top chemistry project.
After post-doctoral work in proteomics (the study of all
proteins in a cell or organism) at the University of South
Denmark, the 30-year-old Foster is at UBC using mass spectroscopy
to analyze proteomes of cell biological systems.
Active with regional science fair committees for more than
eight years, this is Foster’s first time as a national
“I stay involved because the fair is a large part of
why I’m here,” he says. “It’s a chance
for me to repay what I’ve gotten out of it.”
As a female scientist, Soon says a driving force in her involvement
is to serve as a model for young women aspiring to science
careers. In recent years, the gender mix at the competition
has been about equal.
Working with organizers of the B.C. regional science fairs,
Soon will recruit about 200 judges from UBC. Each student
will be interviewed by five judges on the first day of judging.
Additional judges will interview special award competitors
on the second day. A total of 6,000 interviews will take place
over a day and a half.
CWSF winners are eligible for cash prizes and scholarships.
UBC is contributing Science and Engineering Entrance Awards
with a total value of $28,000 for all gold and silver winners
in each of seven divisions that range from earth and environmental
sciences to automotive.
Apart from the competition, which usually draws hundreds
of curious visitors, students participate in lectures, city
tours, events at Science World and other activities. All participants
in grades 7-9 will learn first-hand about UBC research during
lab tours co-ordinated by the Faculty of Science.
The CWSF is the showcase program of Youth Science Foundation
Canada, a national non-profit, charitable organization that
offers leadership in providing extra-curricular science and
technology educational opportunities for Canadian youth.
The fair is being co-hosted this year by the Science Fair
Foundation of B.C., a non-profit, charitable organization
that supports and promotes science fair activity in B.C.
For more information about CWSF, visit www.cwsf2005.ca.