Nicole Zhao

Nicole Zhao is a grade 10 student from Markham, Ontario. As a child, her favorite word has always been why; as she grew older, she found an answer for her curiosity through science.

Nicole has been competing in the York Region Sci-Tech Fair with innovative projects since 2011, when she was in grade 7. Her first project was on color therapy, followed by two projects on creating a natural water purification system, and her most recent project, identifying potential carbamazepine degraders in local pond waters.

Her 2013 project, “The Coconut Factor”, took a creative approach to improve water purification systems in developing nations. She has long known about the severe impact of potable water shortage in developing nations, and she also knew that many of these countries are in tropical regions and have an abundance of natural materials that could be used to disinfect contaminated water. After learning that activated coconut carbon is used to filter tap water, these two ideas clicked. For her project, a 100% biodegradable water purifier was built using coconut shells and other natural purification substances. The materials used to construct the purifier were cheap, environmentally friendly, and readily available in many developing nations. Various experiments and statistical analysis proved that the purifier capable of removing 99.38% of bacterial contamination from local pond water. Her project was selected to compete at the Canada Wide Science Fair in 2013, where she received a Bronze Excellence Award, as well as an entrance scholarship of $1000 to Western University. Her story was featured as an interview on Fairchild TV, and in Sing Tao Daily newspaper.

Nicole is also actively engaged in improving her community. She volunteers for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the Canadian Red Cross, and as an assistant for a local law office. She has also worked as a regular columnist for Wuxi Daily, English newspaper based in Wuxi, China. The paper encourages English amongst Chinese students and provides a source of information for foreign visitors. Her stories featured interviews, special event reports, and personal journals. She is also a local ambassador for Science Expo, a student run non-profit organization that connects youth to innovators and professionals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field.

A key inspiration for her research is best summarized by Alexander McQueen’s quote, “There is no better designer than nature”. Nicole believes that nature will not create problems without preparing a solution. She thinks that through learning about the natural world and conservation of the environment, solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems may be unexpectedly discovered. The most rewarding part of her journey is meeting young scientists with the same dream to better society through science. She is incredibly grateful for all the inspiration that she has derived from her peers, and she hopes that her research will promote the idea of using environmentally friendly alternatives to solve the health and environmental challenges that the world face today.

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