CHIANG RAI – A team from Damrongratsongkroh School in Chiang Rai won four awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), held in Pittsburgh, USA, winning nine awards in the categories of animal science, plant science and environmental engineering, they were also the event’s youngest contestants.
Their project, a new method of silk sheath production, was developed from their observation of the spinning behavior of silkworms. It won the best of animal science (US$5,000 prize), first place grand and physical science from Sigma Xi awards, as well as a trip to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Italy this September.
The team studied the behavior of silkworms, letting them live on fabric or paper frames, instead of boiling the silkworm cocoons which is the traditional method for farmers.
“The economic outcome produces double compared to the traditional practice,” said Nattapong Chueasiritaworn, a team member, noting that the production period is much shorter. The team was inspired to come up with the project on a school trip observing silkworms nurtured by farmers. They then questioned if there were other methods of silk production. The team’s new method has been applied in the community as an alternative practice. Silk sheath produced by the new technique is used for the production of tea bags, facial masks and scarves.
“This project can be further developed and commercialized, increasing income for farmers,” said Nattapong.
A team from Suratpittaya School in Surat Thani won third prize in the environmental engineering category. The project involved developing efficient dry-cell batteries powered by environmentally-friendly, low-cost carbon from bacterial cellulose.
Team members Pannawat Peanjad and Orawan Thasanabenjakul produced bacterial cellulose in a low-cost and simple way, within only one minute. They used acidic waste water from natural rubber manufacturers and unwanted coconut juice from coconut milk factories. Then they investigated an efficient chemical process to make activated carbon and its characteristics, including absorption capacity, micro-structure, chemical components and conductivity.
Most importantly, these characteristics led them to the use of the obtained activated carbon to make low-cost, paper-thin, and effective dry cell batteries. Pannawat noted that bacterial cellulose produced with gluconocetobacter xylinum fermentation contains nano-structure fibers, ideal characteristics for porous carbon production. It is also economical and easy to produce. In the southern part of Thailand, many waste materials are potentially suitable for bacterial cellulose production.
“The cost is 50 satang per cell and has power equal to an AA battery. Its longevity and power density is also measured,” she said.
Another team from Suratpittaya School won third place in the environmental engineering category with their project of bio-based packaging from lotus cellulose. Third place in the plant science category went to the team from Demonstration School, Khon Kaen University, with the utilisation of crude plant extract as an effective bio-insecticide to eradicate brown plant hoppers in rice fields.
Damrongratsongkroh School, also from Chiang Rai, won fourth prize in the plant science category for its project of using parasitic fruit sap to produce orchid adhesion glue.
The fair is one of the world’s largest high school science research competitions. This year, there were approximately 1,700 young scientists from over 75 countries participating.
Sattiya Langkhapin, Intel Microelectronics (Thailand)’s director of corporate affairs, noted that young people are key to future innovation and that in order to confront the global challenges of tomorrow, students from various backgrounds should be encouraged to get involved in science, technology, engineering and maths.
“Besides academic knowledge, students today can connect their knowledge to an international audience,” she said.