Nivatha Balendra, 18, is a recent graduate of Marianopolis College and resides in Montreal, Quebec. She obtained her diploma in Health Sciences from this CEGEP.
Throughout her childhood, Nivatha has always maintained an interest in what was happening around her. She was curious by nature and would try to find plausible answers herself instead of settling for what others would answer. She began her science fair journey in Grade 8, but began competing at higher level competitions the following year in Grade 9. In grades 10 and 11, Nivatha’s research focused on the efficiency of Ethanol as an antibacterial agent and the feasibility of Isopropanol as a safer, more effective alternative. Her research garnered her numerous accolades over the two years. She won the Gold award along with several special awards, and was also chosen to represent Quebec at the National Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge in 2012. Her environmental research which you may know more about from her feature in CBC News started in May 2013. Nivatha participated in a week-long research apprenticeship at L’Institut national de la recherche scientifique- Institut Armand-Frappier in 2010. Here she worked under a PhD student who would later be her first mentor for her environmental research. She gained knowledge on the bioremediation topic and its importance in water pollution; this is where she would be inspired to conduct her own research in this field. In May 2013, she prepared a short proposal containing her idea of finding a possibly more efficient or different species of bacteria capable of remediating oil spills. For Nivatha, the entire process was a discovery, there was always something unexpected or greater than she had thought would happen. Initially she collected soil samples from her backyard and near the St. Lawrence River, hoping to screen for Pseudomonas fluorescens group bacteria. After screening for this particular group via several identification tests, Nivatha had to determine which of the samples were actually effective in clearing and ingesting oil particles. Essentially, she discovered that 3 of her samples were not only efficient at emulsifying the oil layer through its biosurfactant (lipid) production, but equally able to ingest oil particles. Through certain DNA sequencing results, she was also able to determine that these same samples belong to possibly new species of bacteria, in which case Nivatha’s bacterial species would continue to be named after her. In all, this project undoubtedly presents an eco-friendly and efficient solution to clearing oil spills, which are devastating causes of water pollution.
After months of researching, in March 2013, at the Montreal Regional Science & Technology Fair, Nivatha won numerous awards (Silver in Senior category, participation at Provincials, and several special awards), including the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair award which would directly qualify her to participate in this competition. At the IISEF (May 2014), Nivatha won the World Economic Forum Young Scientists Award, which was presented for the first time at an IISEF fair. This award consists of an all expense paid trip and participation in the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China this September. Nivatha is extremely excited for this opportunity and is looking forward to presenting her research here. She is currently working on the DNA sequencing of the 3 bacterial samples in order to determine its identity and is aiming to publish her results soon. She continues to work at the INRS under Dr. Eric Déziel and will be conducting genetic work related to her project at the McGill University and Genome Quebec Innovation Centre.
If she were to sum up her science fair experience (this was her last year!), Nivatha says that it was an unbelievably enriching experience that is not only invaluable due to the amount of knowledge she accumulated over the years, but most importantly the many friendships she created within Canada and internationally.
Nivatha is equally involved in other activities:
She, along with her fellow executives, created a MEDLIFE Chapter at her College this year which consisted of planning a mobile clinic trip to Lima, Peru. Nivatha just arrived from this life-changing trip with 19 other members of the Chapter; she describes it as the most eye-opening and amazing experience of her life. As a group, they built 2 staircases and served over 1000 patients in 5 mobile clinics set-up in different regions of Lima. She hopes to now participate in at least one mobile clinic trip each year as it is one of bigger dreams to aid in the development of third world healthcare systems and resources.
Apart from academic activities, Nivatha is also an accomplished dancer and teacher. She recently obtained her full-fledged title as a Bharathanatyam (South Indian Classical Dance) teacher and will be starting dance classes this September. Nivatha was the first Bharathanatyam student in Montreal to accomplish this level of instruction and has continuously received highest distinctions in her examinations. She has been learning this beautiful art form for 14 years and counting and looks forward to now pass on her knowledge. Nivatha also plans on opening her own dance school shortly after the start of her dance classes. She has an overflowing love for dance and loves maintaining both scientific and artistic activities; Nivatha says it keeps her well-balanced.
Nivatha Balendra will be pursuing a Physiology BSc. at McGill University in September where she hopes to conduct a research project in the health sciences field.
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