Science experiment turns lemons into a national award

An experiment to determine whether natural or chemical antiseptics kill bacteria most effectively produced some surprising results for 16-year-old Alana Mastroianni. Her project found that lemon was the best bacteria killer, and earned Alana the national Dow AgroSciences Science for Growth Award.

The Science for Growth Awards are an initiative of the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) and sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, the Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Program and the Federal Department of Education. The program encourages students in Years Nine and 10 to showcase their science skills by participating in real-life science.

SGA Awards
Winners of the national Science for Growth Awards Rebecca Astor and Alana Mastroianni.

Alana, a Year 10 student from Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta, said it was a great honour to win the award.

“I’ve always been interested in natural remedies and modern medicines. This science project let me investigate whether some of the claims made especially about natural remedies were true,” Alana said.

Her experiment tested the effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, eucalyptus oil and orchid sap used to kill bacteria gathered from a piece of decaying meat.

“Apart from lemon juice, I found that natural antiseptics are not as effective at killing bacteria as chemical antiseptics,” Alana said.

She said there were a few trials and errors during her experiment, including problems with accuracy of the bacteria amounts in each petri dish, but she was still pleased with the results.

Dow AgroSciences has sponsored the awards program since it was introduced in 2012.

“We were very impressed by the high calibre of entries from students around Australia this year,” said Jim Phimister, Marketing Specialist at Dow AgroSciences.

“Australia is facing a serious skills shortage in the agricultural sector, so we want to encourage the next generation of bright young scientists to look at careers in agriculture,” he said.

“A recent survey showed almost 80 per cent of city teenagers know little or nothing about farming and food production, but most see farming as important to Australia. We hope our sponsorship of the Science for Growth Awards will help shift the mindset of young people and encourage them to engage in a future in agriculture.”

Winner of the Best Primary Industry Related Science for Growth Award Rebecca Castor said she had seen first-hand how vital the agriculture industry is for Australia.

“My uncle is an agronomist and manages a large cotton farm in Queensland. I’ve been to the property a couple of times and I know water plays an enormous role in farming. So I wanted to look at some of the local water issues in my community,” Rebecca said.

The Year 10 student, also from Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta, spent almost two months investigating the water quality of the Nepean River in the Penrith area in New South Wales.

“I collected water samples at three different locations on the Nepean River and measured the pH levels,” she said.

Rebecca hypothesised that Penrith would have a large effect on the Nepean River’s pH making it more acidic due to increased pollution.

“I was surprised by the results. The river water actually became more alkaline downstream even after the contribution of various pollutants. The Nepean River seems well looked after and well treated,” she said.

Rebecca said there were a lot of variables such as frequent rainfall that may have changed the outcome of her investigation, but was still pleased with the outcome.

“It’s fantastic that my efforts in science have been recognised at a national level through the Dow AgroSciences Primary Industry Award. I’d encourage all Year Nine and 10 students to get involved.”

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