When Annie McLeod walked into one of the province’s most prestigious science competitions, she admits she was intimiated.
The 16-year-old Glenlyon Norfolk student was one of the youngest competitors there, and was up against students from high schools around the province. Some had research projects which sought to cure Alzheimer’s disease, while others set out to find a cure for cancer. No way could her project stack up against some of the others, she thought to herself.
But McLeod’s project not only stacked up against the others, it came in second place earlier this month in the regional Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition, which pairs young students with academic mentors to pursue real-world research projects.
“There were a lot of really good projects there and almost everyone was older than me,” said the Grade 10 student. “I was really happy when I won.”
McLeod’s research project is called Marine Brown Algae Extracted Fucoxanthin and Phlorotannin in Dye-Sensitized Cells: A Possible Renewable Energy Source? As part of her research project, McLeod built a mini solar panel that uses the UV and light absorption power of dye found in marine brown algae to produce an electric current, which in turn produces energy.
It’s a project that’s been months in the making. First McLeod collected two types of marine brown algae, one which is commonly known as rockweed or bladderwrack and the other, which is known as japanese wireweed from McNeill Bay in Oak Bay and Trafalgar Park in Victoria. Then she put the algae in a mixture of acetone and water to extract the dye from the algae. From there, she studied how effective the dye is at absorbing light.
After nearly a year of research, she made six solar cells, using pieces of glass each one inch by one inch. In the solar cell, she sandwiched the dye from the algae with titanium dioxide, which acts as a conductor for the electricty to bond with the dye molecules on the glass. In the end, the mixture produced 253 milivolts of energy.
For McLeod, experimenting in the lab and having control over the procedure was the most interesting part of the project
“It’s interesting to see how the world works and how we can use a lot of natural materials to apply to our lives,” said McLeod, who came up with the idea for the project while on a kayaking trip near Discovery Island.
“Nature is our biggest role model. Things have been designed for specific purposes and using and harnessing the power of those plants, animals, bacteria, sunlight, it’s pretty cool to be able to apply it to science.”
The project also won McLeod top prize at this year’s Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair. Next month, she’ll take her project to the Canada-wide science fair in Regina, as well. But the budding scientist isn’t done yet.
McLeod hopes to continue with the project and experiment with different types of algae to find out which dyes make the most efficient solar cell. Then she wants to learn how to apply those solar cells to everyday life, such as finding a way to use the dyes and combine it with everyday objects like blinds that could potentially absorb light from the sun, while shutting out light from the room.