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Hydro-Quebec science fair participation drops due to teachers work-to-rule

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WATCH ABOVE: About 128 big-thinking youth inventors are presenting their projects at the annual Hydro-Quebec Montreal Regional Science & Technology Fair at Concordia University. Global's Anne Leclair meets a few students who are promising to change the future – Mar 14, 2016

MONTREAL – From oil spills to alternative fuel, some of Montreal’s brightest students are searching for ways to solve some of the biggest problems plaguing our planet.

Close to 200 high school and CEGEP students from the greater Montreal area are participating in the 34th annual Hydro-Québec Montreal Regional Science & Technology Fair.

But, unlike previous years, teacher pressure tactics have put a damper on the quantity of projects.

“Obviously our clientèle comes from schools, so because of the work-to-rule by teachers, it has affected our number of participants,” said Agostino Porchetta, President of the Educational Alliance for Science and Technology.

“But the quality of projects is still here.”

The students descended on the ground floor of Concordia’s Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex to show off the fruits of their labour and latest inventions.

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“Our project was concentrated on making the production of ethanol a lot more efficient,” said Jaad Vanderwee, from Royal West Academy.

Vanderwee and his classmate Sean Giancobbe created an equation to see if plants other than corn could be used to produce ethanol.

What they found could change the face of agriculture.

“Radishes were actually able to produce more ethanol than corn per square metre,” said Vanderwee, who created a makeshift greenhouse.

“The question now is: is it actually going to be worth it financially?”

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Kevin (L) and Markus (R) Amalfi from Centennial Regional High School stand with their toothbrush project, Monday, March 14, 2016. Anne Leclair/Global News
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Max Grégoire (L) and Tristan Nellis (R) from Kuper Academy show off their oil spill project, Monday, March 14, 2016. Anne Leclair/Global News
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Jaad Vanderwee (L) and Sean Giancobbe (R) from Royal West Academy display their project on ethanol, Monday, March 14, 2016. Anne Leclair/Global News

Two 14-year-old students from Kuper Academy are also thinking big, hoping to find new ways to clean-up oil spills.

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They tested different materials and were surprised by their own findings.

“Cotton, we thought would be the best, but it was not, it was actually sawdust in the end,” said Tristan Nellis.

A total of 128 science projects will be put to the test and judged by a panel of five.

Four lucky winners will move on to the national science fair, set to take place at McGill University in May.

However, while great minds think alike, not all projects are the same.

Two brothers from Centennial Regional High School decided to investigate the bacteria build-up on toothbrushes.

They found that cross-contamination is alive and well.

“The bacteria in his mouth isn’t the same bacteria in my mouth, even though we’re both brothers,” Kevin Amalfi explained.

They found that when the toilet is flushed, fecal matter can also end up on their toothbrushes.

So, the result of their experiment: “try flushing with the lid down,” Markus Amalfi said.

Organizers already have a good idea of who may end up on the podium and all eyes are set on Anya Pogharian, who created a portable blood dialysis machine from scratch.

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“Just to give you an idea, 90 per cent of patients living in India and Pakistan who need the treatment to survive simply don’t have access to it,” Pogharian said.

The 19-year-old has already taken part in panel discussions with Bill Clinton to raise awareness about health care disparities around the world.

Her prototype costs about $500 and, regardless of whether or not she wins, the Marianopolis student is already working on plans to patent and sell her device.

“Medicine is really my dream,” she said,

“But starting my own company may happen first.”

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