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Canberra's young scientists compete in national arena

Date

Larissa Nicholson

WHIZ KIDS: Students Somesh Putcha, left, Myles Buckley and Joseph Quinn will represent the ACT in Melbourne in February.

WHIZ KIDS: Students Somesh Putcha, left, Myles Buckley and Joseph Quinn will represent the ACT in Melbourne in February. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Meet three of Canberra's budding young scientists.

When the ACT government banned non-biodegradable plastic bags, it gave then year 9 student Joseph Quinn an idea.

Asked by his Lyneham High School science teacher to conduct an experiment for homework, the science whiz decided to investigate how biodegradable plastic could be strengthened using plant fibres as reinforcement, and it worked.

''By strengthening biodegradable plastic with plant-based fibres you could make stronger biodegradable plastic that could substitute synthetic … in commercial situations,'' he said.

Now 15 and about to start year 10, Mr Quinn and Lyneham High School classmates Somesh Putcha and Myles Buckley will represent the territory as finalists in the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards 2013, held in Melbourne in February.

The awards, a partnership of BHP Billiton, CSIRO and the Australian Science Teachers Association, will see finalists attend an all-expenses-paid science camp and a ceremony at Federation Square, where the winners will be announced.

Mr Buckley explored how a common absorbent, diatomite, found in kitty litter, could be used to potentially clean up an oil spill.

He started by making diatomite water repellent, then put it on top of water with oil, observing that it could selectively absorb oil from water. The oil could perhaps then be collected and resold, he said.

''In an oil slick the oil coats animals when it enters the water, it blocks the oxygen from corals and fish and if you break that layer and absorb and capture it, you stop all those problems,'' he said.

Mr Putcha examined the effects of the anti-malarial antibiotic doxycycline on probiotics found in the stomach.

He determined that doxycycline inhibited the growth of the tested probiotics.

Mr Putcha said science was his favourite subject at school.

''It ties in nicely with philosophy, which I like as well, because when you're doing these things there's lots of stuff to consider and there's different ways of thought that tie in, mostly logic,'' he said.

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