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High school students honoured with UTSC science awards

SCIENCE AWARDS: (L to R) James Pasierbski, UTSC Principal Franco Vaccarino, Celestine Sarpong, Patrick Polvorosa, Abhishek Ellie, and Dr. Rajeev Kumar of Bruker BioSpin, at the high school science awards ceremony. For more photos click on the link in the story. (All photos by Ken Jones.)

by Eleni Kanavas

Four young people from local high schools have been recognized for their excellence in science through a new set of awards established by the University of Toronto Scarborough, in collaboration with private industry and the Ontario government.

The quartet of Grade 12 students was recently welcomed to the campus to receive the Outstanding High School Student Science Awards, recognizing their talent in the subject. Celestine Sarpong and Patrick Polvorosa from Jean Vanier Secondary School, along with Abhishek Ellie and James Pasierbski from Senator O’Connor Secondary School, are the inaugural recipients of the awards. All 17 years old, the students received $250 each, an awards certificate, and a day on campus filled with exciting science and research opportunities. (For more photos from the day, click here.) 

“I’m so happy to receive this award because I’ve always been interested in science and find the subject exciting,” said Sarpong, a student at Jean Vanier who hopes to become a pediatrician.

Encouraging young people to consider a career in science was the impetus behind a new set of awards founded by chemistry professor André Simpson of the department of physical and environmental sciences and director of the Environmental NMR Centre on campus. The science awards were established this past spring with the aim of exposing the best high school students to a research and development environment and conveying excitement and enthusiasm for research to students at an early age.

“We are so pleased to welcome you to our campus, and we commend you for your achievements in science as well as your interest in research,” Simpson told the visitors. “Today you can see for yourselves that science is an exciting and stimulating career and we want more young people to be aware of the opportunities available to them in this field.”

Professor Franco Vaccarino, principal of UTSC, presented the certificates to the winners, along with Dr. Rajeev Kumar, representing Dr. Henry J. Stronks, president of Bruker BioSpin, a company specializing in the development of scientific instrumentation and a key donor of hi-tech equipment to UTSC.

“You have shown a talent and aptitude for science, and we congratulate you on being the first winners of this award,” Vaccarino said in his speech to the award recipients. “I also wish to thank our donor, Bruker Canada, without whom we could not offer this program.”

The awards program has been financially supported in part by the Ontario government, the University of Toronto Scarborough and Bruker BioSpin Ltd. Part of Bruker Canada, the company is a global leader in the development and manufacture of magnetic resonance technologies for both imaging and spectroscopy. In 2004, Bruker BioSpin Ltd. donated $1.57 million to build an NMR centre at U of T Scarborough.

Students got the opportunity to use the NMR spectroscopic instrument in the Environmental Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility in the new Science Research Building, where they performed an imaging and magnetic resonance experiment to determine the chemical components in the Red Bull energy drink.

“The lab experiment was really interesting, and it was a great way to expose us to the field of science,” said Pasierbski, a Grade 12 science student at Senator O’Connor who hopes to study life sciences at university next year.

The NMR facility is the only centre in Canada that studies the environment and is able to conduct research on environmental solids, liquids and gel samples using specially designed probes that are inserted into the NMR spectroscopic instrument. According to Dr. Kumar, “It’s the most basic tool in order to conduct fundamental research in environmental science.”

Organizers plan to expand the awards program in the future, offering an additional two awards ($500 per year) to high school students in 2010 and 2011 with the help of funding from the Ontario Research Fund (Government of Ontario) as well as from additional industry partners in coming years. Only Scarborough schools participated this year, but Simpson said he hopes to expand the nomination pool through the Greater Toronto Area and Durham region.

Grades were not the sole criteria for the awards, although academic standing was important, Simpson said. An aptitude for original thinking, enthusiasm for scientific exploration, and a demonstrated interest in science as a career field were also considered by nominating schools. All students submitted an essay describing their interests and aspirations for a future career in scientific research and teaching, as well as letters of recommendation from principals and science teachers.

The selection committee included UTSC professors André Simpson and Dave McNally, Janet Blakely from the department of physical and environmental sciences, and Dr. Henry Stronks of Bruker BioSpin Ltd.




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