June 13, 2024

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Probiotic query nets Wolfville, N.S., student gold medal at national science fair

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WOLFVILLE, N.S. — A Grade 11 student who wondered about the benefits of probiotics has walked away from a national competition with a gold medal — and a much better understanding of bacterial cultures.

Wolfville resident Thomas Murimboh, who attends Horton High School, was one of 10 Nova Scotian students who travelled to Edmonton to compete at the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF) in mid-May.

The event brought together Canada’s top young scientists from Grades 7-12 for a weeklong competition at the University of Alberta (U of A).

“The Annapolis (Valley) crew was exemplary in their comportment and their representation of the region. On a national level, Nova Scotia was very successful, in particular Annapolis, bringing home each of a gold, silver and bronze medallion,” said teacher Rob Davies, who accompanied the students on the trip and is a key member of the regional science fair organizing committee.

The Annapolis Valley contingent, comprised of, from left, William Larder, Harvey Hadley, Thomas Murimboh, and Sarah Murimboh, brought home three medals after competing at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Edmonton recently. - Contributed
The Annapolis Valley contingent, comprised of, from left, William Larder, Harvey Hadley, Thomas Murimboh, and Sarah Murimboh, brought home three medals after competing at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Edmonton recently. – Contributed

Students who competed at regional science fairs were selected to show at the national level. Representing the Annapolis Valley were Thomas Murimboh, his younger sister Sarah Murimboh, who also attends Horton, and King’s-Edgehill School students Harvey Hadley and William Larder.

“The four finalists from the Annapolis region hit the ground running upon arrival in Edmonton. Over the course of the week, the group was immersed in a week of science and science-related activities” said Davies. “From the joys of the escape room to the stresses of being judged, to an awesome U of A experience, to a Taylor Swift light show, the week was packed full of meaningful experiences.”

And the students fared well. The Murimbohs took home a gold (Thomas, senior level) and silver (Sarah, intermediate level) medal, and William Larder brought home a bronze (intermediate level).

Siblings Sarah and Thomas Murimboh left the Canada-Wide Science Fair big winners — both received medals (silver for Sarah; gold for Thomas) and entrance scholarships to various Canadian universities. - Contributed
Siblings Sarah and Thomas Murimboh left the Canada-Wide Science Fair big winners — both received medals (silver for Sarah; gold for Thomas) and entrance scholarships to various Canadian universities. – Contributed

Gold medal project

Thomas Murimboh said his science fair project was inspired by his family taking probiotics on a regular basis.

“I never really questioned their effectiveness until I read an article in biology class, claiming that probiotics don’t really do much for your health. So, I really wanted to investigate further,” he said, noting he began toying with the idea last summer.

By January, he began in earnest, formulating how he was going to collect the samples and monitor the project. He chose seven products to sample — representing popular yogurts and freeze-dried probiotic supplements.

“Because they all contain live bacteria, I could actually culture them on Petri dishes. They’ll grow colonies for me and I can count the colonies and infer how much was in the actual sample,” he said.

“I’m really grateful for my dad (John Murimboh) for helping with this project because sometimes we were staying up until like 1 a.m. trying to get the results for each of the samples.”

What he discovered was some types of yogurt, which don’t make probiotic claims, outproduced those that people expect to contain billions of probiotics. He said the thicker yogurts tended to have the higher concentrations. The samples containing the least probiotics were those that had been freeze-dried.

Following his gold medal win, he said the judges were encouraging him to reach out to the companies.

Thomas Murimboh, who attends Horton High School, won a gold medal in the senior level at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Edmonton. He investigated and evaluated how many probiotics are actually in popular products like yogurt and health supplements. - Contributed
Thomas Murimboh, who attends Horton High School, won a gold medal in the senior level at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Edmonton. He investigated and evaluated how many probiotics are actually in popular products like yogurt and health supplements. – Contributed

“A lot of them actually suggested that I send my results to some of the companies to show them, ‘hey, this is what I actually found in your products’ because I can actually tell which ones … actually give the number of probiotics they claim to have in them.”

While he hasn’t pursued that yet, he said he may do so once exams are over and the school year ends.

Although winning his category was a highlight, he said the best part of attending the national fair was being around like-minded peers.

“I think what I’m going to remember from this experience is everyone around me that can also appreciate science,” he said, noting even the drive from the airport to the venue was memorable.

“I was having conversations about how much force the bus supplies to the road and just random physics questions like that, and I found that really fun.”

Davies said the trip also saw the young scientists make connections and forge friendships with peers.

“Our students immersed themselves in the pin-trading business, which allowed them to meet and form relationships with students from across Canada, Mexico and Thailand,” Davies said.

Students from across Nova Scotia were selected to showcase their science projects at the national level in May. - Contributed
Students from across Nova Scotia were selected to showcase their science projects at the national level in May. – Contributed

What’s next

Thomas started participating at the local science fair level when he was in elementary school.

“I’ve been doing them every year — for as long as I can remember,” he said.

He hasn’t ruled out participating in next year’s Annapolis Valley science fair as a Grade 12 student, but said he hasn’t committed to doing so either.

“It was a lot of work this year and I’m not sure I’m willing to put that much effort in again. But yeah, it’s still on the table as a possibility,” he said.

For students who are thinking about entering next year’s regional science fair, Thomas hopes they do — and he hopes they challenge themselves to investigate things that interest them.

“If you’re looking to get into the science fair, really the most important thing is to choose a topic you’re passionate about,” advised Thomas.

Sarah Murimboh’s science fair entry focused on the effects of humidity and temperature on deformities in tenebric molitor. Her project received a silver medal in the intermediate level at the 2023 Canada-Wide Science Fair. - Contributed
Sarah Murimboh’s science fair entry focused on the effects of humidity and temperature on deformities in tenebric molitor. Her project received a silver medal in the intermediate level at the 2023 Canada-Wide Science Fair. – Contributed

As for Davies, he thinks the future looks bright for the regional science fair, and for future champions heading to nationals.

“As a fair committee, we are very excited for what comes next. We have several keen young scientists in the region who will compete next March for a spot at next year’s CWSF in Ottawa,” he said.

“Moving forward, I predict we will see more local schools involved in the regional fair with a continuing rise in the quality of work our students are producing.”

Davies said the 2023 regional science fair was held at the end of March in Windsor, marking the first time since the pandemic that in-person science fairs were held.

“We had a record number of elementary, Primary to Grade 6, projects, which really bodes well for the future of the fair,” he said. “Even after having so much time away, students really put a lot of time and effort and did some really cool things.”

King’s-Edgehill School student William Larder's science presentation focused on culvert remediation for fish passage in Barkhouse Brook, located near Upper Falmouth. He received a bronze medal in the intermediate level at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. - Contributed
King’s-Edgehill School student William Larder’s science presentation focused on culvert remediation for fish passage in Barkhouse Brook, located near Upper Falmouth. He received a bronze medal in the intermediate level at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. – Contributed

Did you Know?

Details about the recent Canada-Wide Science Fair.

Where: Edmonton.

When: May 14-19.

Why: To bring together the country’s top young scientists from Grade 7-12 who then competed for medals, cash prizes, and scholarships.

Who: Four youth from the Annapolis Valley — Harvey Hadley, William Larder, and siblings Sarah Murimboh and Thomas Murimboh — were part of the Nova Scotia contingent that attended the fair.

Highlights: Three of the Valley youth left with medals and offers of post-secondary scholarships.

• William Larder, of King’s-Edgehill School, received bronze in the intermediate level; entrance scholarships for University of Alberta ($1,500) and Western University ($1,000).

• Sarah Murimboh, of Horton High School, received a silver medal in the intermediate level; entrance scholarships for University of Alberta ($1,500) and Western University ($2,000).

• Thomas Murimboh, of Horton High School, received a gold medal in the senior level; entrance scholarships for Dalhousie Faculty of Science ($5,000), University of Manitoba ($5,000), University of New Brunswick ($5,000), University of British Columbia Faculty of Science ($4,000), University of Ottawa ($4,000), Western University ($4,000) and University of Alberta ($1,500).

Harvey Hadley, who attends King’s-Edgehill School, presented on the topic of particle accelerators. - Contributed
Harvey Hadley, who attends King’s-Edgehill School, presented on the topic of particle accelerators. – Contributed


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