Six high school students spent the day at University of Toronto Scarborough as part of the Outstanding High School Student – Science Award (OHSS-SA) program.
“This award was created to expose the best high school students to research and development environment at the earliest opportunity,” says André Simpson, Professor in the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences (DPES) and Director of the Environmental NMR Centre.
“The goal is to instill excitement and enthusiasm for research as well as to provide students an award early in their careers, making them more competitive at the national level.”
Award winners receive a cash prize of $250, an awards certificate and a day on campus that includes attending Simpson’s third-year lecture, Chemical Instrumental Analysis, one-on-one interactions with graduate students and conducting an experiment in the Environmental Science & Chemistry building.
In the Environmental Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility on campus, students had the opportunity to use the NMR spectroscopic instrument to identify the chemical components in energy drink, Red Bull. They got to see the analysis first hand and were fascinated by the results, says Simpson.
“Many high school students have never stepped into a lab, so it’s really cool to see what a university lab is like and actually use some of the equipment,” says Amanda Yokingco, a Grade 12 student at Toronto high school, Senator O’Conner.
This year’s OHSS-SA recipients are Mohammad Motasim Billah from Woburn Collegiate Institute; Sumena Hussain, Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute; Ahmad-Salim Ali, David Suzuki Secondary School; Amanda Yokingco, Senator O'Connor College School; Mutian Ding, David & Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute; and Tirth Patel, Woburn Collegiate Institute.
The certificates were presented by Acting Vice-Principal Research Marc Cadotte, and DPES staff and OHSS-SA organizers Jennifer Caradonna and Janet Blakely. Martine Monette, Senior Project Manager at Bruker BioSpin Ltd., a financial partner of for the OHSS-SA program, was also in attendance.
Simpson founded the “outreach award program” in 2006 with the first awards offered in 2007.
To be considered for the recognition students had to submit a two-page photo essay about the subject in a photo they took themselves and explain the science behind it.
Students featured research interests in essays like Billah’s “Does the Brain “Like Social Media?” to Ding’s “The Science Behind the Harms of Video Games.”
Yokingco’s piece presented the science behind a cardinal in her backyard.
“I explained the chemical, biological and physical sciences behind it,” says Yokingco. “Chemistry was featured in the pigment in its feathers, biology looked at evolution and why male and female birds have certain feathers, and for physical science I discussed the physics of flight.”
In addition to their photo essay, students also submitted half a page outlining their interest in science and academic goals, reference letters from a principal and science teacher and their most recent transcript. Nominated students from all over the Greater Toronto areas are expected to have an excellent academic standing, but grades are not the sole criteria.
“The intent of the program is to recognize outstanding Ontario high school students who demonstrate a passion for science and an interest in research,” says Simpson.
The program is a joint venture between U of T Scarborough and private partners Bruker Canada, a manufacturer of NMR, EPR and preclinical MRI instruments, and Geosyntec Consultants, an engineering and consulting firm that addresses problems involving the environment, natural resources, and civil infrastructure.