Students from across southwestern Manitoba put their scientific talents and innovative thoughts on display at the recent Western Manitoba Science Fair at the Westman Communications Place in Brandon.
The regional fair has been in operation since 1969 and hosts students from Grades 1 through 12 who earned the top recognition at their school’s science fair.
Projects touched on a wide range of topics in agriculture and the environment.
“I live on a farm with my family just outside of Brandon and when I am in the tractor with my dad I have always wondered which kind of wheat grows the fastest,” said Grade 4 student Ian Odowichuk, who through his project determined that the Glenn variety grows the quickest.
The Western Manitoba Science Fair is one of Canada’s largest regional fairs and this year hosted 644 students with 457 projects from 31 schools.
“I started entering the science fair in sixth grade and just continued on every year,” said Christopher Vauzelle, a Grade 10 student from École La Source in Shilo. “Every year I like to do a project focused on ecology or the environment and I hope to have a career in those fields in the future.”
Vauzelle presented his project on how pesticides applied to soil can affect our waterways.
“I wanted to test to see if the pesticides used in farmers’ fields and gardens could be found in the run-off, if it travels into our lakes and rivers and how it would affect the quality of those ecosystems,” said Vauzelle.
Through the use of three separate gutters, holding different soil types, Vauzelle carefully sprayed the soil with the recommended dose of pesticide, simulated rainfall and then tested the run-off from each.
“I staged each gutter at the same angle, determined what an average rainfall amount would be for our region and played out the experiment accordingly. I had installed screens at the end of the gutters to limit the amount of soil that would run off.”
Vauzelle explained how testing the run-off with an ALS lab would have been ideal but due to time and financial constraints, he stuck with PH-alkaline acid test strips.
“I found quite high levels of nitrate and pH in the run-off. It is not as precise as it could be but this certainly gives us the idea that what is being sprayed into the soil is running off into other areas that may not be desired.”
After noting a number of variables in his procedure, including the scale of the experiment, the soil type, how much water and the rate it is dispersed, air movement and the intensity of the sunlight, Vauzelle stated that if he were to do the experiment again, he would position the gutters over a tank of water, which would enable him to test the water and better simulate the situation of when a farmer’s field is located near a riverbank.
“This is a major problem that I think is very important to the future of our province’s ecosystems because it can kill the marine life and influence a number of vital factors,” he said.
Vauzelle lives on his family farm that is located between Wawanesa and Shilo and has watched his father utilize organic farming methods for a number of years.
“I live on an organic farm, my dad is a farmer and we are also a part of the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba,” said Vauzelle.
“There is a potato farm located on the other side of the river from us and we see them on occasion aerial spraying their fields. I always watch and notice the wind and turbulence blowing the chemical around; that is one of the reasons I was curious to focus my project on this topic.”
Each project at the fair was judged and awards dispersed throughout the varying grade levels. Every year the top three projects from the fair are selected and the students move on to the Canada-wide science fair.
Along with earning one of three top spots at the regional fair, Vauzelle also earned a gold medal in his age category — the Safe Communities Award for projects related to making communities safer places, as well as the Brodie Davis Alumni Award for the best project demonstrating sustainability of an environmental practice or method.
Vauzelle will now be moving on to compete in the Canada-wide fair that is being held in Fredericton, N.B., in May, and has the opportunity to win a portion of the $1 million that will be presented in awards, prizes and scholarships, as well as returning to his school with bragging rights.