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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 judge.

“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.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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