Originally from Singapore, 16-year old Janelle Tam of Waterloo, Ontario has won first place nationally in the 2012 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) competition with her application for nanocrystalline cellulose. From the May 8, 2012 news item on physorg.com,
Janelle Tam, a Grade 12 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, was awarded the $5,000 first prize by an impressed panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada.
The theme of the competition, “How will you change the world?” inspired hundreds of students to participate in 2012 SBCC events Canada-wide.
Canada’s next big technological and health breakthrough might come from cellulose, the woody material found in trees that enables them to stand. Cellulose is made up of tiny nano-particles called nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC) that are measured in thousandths of the width of a human hair.
Only recently discovered, Waterloo’s Janelle Tam is the first to show that NCC is a powerful antioxidant, and may be superior to Vitamin C or E because it is more stable and its effectiveness won’t diminish as quickly.
“NCC is non-toxic, stable, soluble in water and renewable, since it comes from trees,” says Janelle, a Grade 12 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute.
“NCC is really a hot field of research in Canada,” says Janelle, who notes that antioxidants have anti-aging and health promotion properties, including wound healing since they neutralize “free radicals” that damage or kill cells.
Janelle chemically ‘paired’ NCC with a well-known nano-particle called a buckminster fullerene. These ‘buckyballs’ (carbon molecules that look like a soccer ball) are already used in cosmetic and anti-aging products she says. The new NCC-buckyball combination acted like a ‘nano-vacuum,’ sucking up free radicals and neutralizing them.
“The results were really exciting,” she says and especially since cellulose is already used as filler and stabilizer in many vitamin products. One day those products may be super-charged free radical neutralizers thanks to NCC, she hopes.
Jeff Hicks’ May 8, 2012 story for TheRecord.com about Tam and her NCC work offers some insight into the young scientist and the scientific process,
Janelle, 16, is admittedly stubborn.
Gets it from her dad Michael, a University of Waterloo chemical engineering professor.
… you’ve got to have gumption to spend three to four hours a day in a University of Waterloo lab from September to March to invent a disease-fighting, anti-aging compound.
A frustrating nano-globe almost kicked her into submission last December.
Three months into her work she realized she had messed up. Her experimental technique was flawed. Her results were as worthless as Leafs playoff tickets.
Janelle wanted to give up. She told her mom Dorothy, a literacy social worker, she was never returning to the lab. Her older sister and former Team Canada science partner Vivienne, could not be leaned on for advice. Vivienne, 19, had left for Princeton.
But Janelle’s dad settled her down.
“He’s one of the most perseverant people I know,” she said. “He tells me that research is about failing and failing and failing. And failures are all steps on the way to success.”
Tam will be in Boston, Massachusetts for June 18, 2012 to compete in Sanofi’s International BioGENEius Challenge, which takes place at the same time as Sanofi’s BIO Annual International Convention. For anyone who’s curious about Sanofi, it’s a French multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in Paris, France. I found the Wikipedia essay a little more informative than the Sanofi company website .
(For a mild change of pace) So, Sanofi is a large French company which sponsors this contest. Are Canadian companies sponsoring contests of this type? I ask the question because Canadian companies don’t invest in research and development at the same rate as companies in other countries and, it appears, do less to stimulate interest and participation in science pursuits amongst youth. Developing an innovative society means having a much more comprehensive approach than publicity campaigns and retooling government funding programmes.
Getting back to Tam’s work, congratulations! This is very exciting stuff especially in light of some of the concerns expressed in Bertrand Marotte’s recent article on NCC for the Globe and Mail newspaper, mentioned in my May 8, 2012 posting.