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Taking enviro-science on the road

Science can take researchers down many different paths, but for two École River Heights School students, it led to Windsor, Ontario.

Students Wynonna Mendoza and Allie Skwarchuk were selected for the Canada Wide Science Fair after earning several awards at the Winnipeg Schools Science Fair for their project “Can we use Plants to Control the Amount of Waste in Lake Winnipeg?”

The students were inspired to aid Lake Winnipeg after seeing the sorry state of the lake’s water quality in recent summers.

“We both like to go to Lake Winnipeg—I have a cottage in the South Basin,” Allie said. “It’s pretty gross to swim in, especially in the summer. It’s all green and there’s bubbly stuff along the shore. Lots of that is caused by excess phosphorus and nitrate entering the lake, because it’s runoff from farmers’ fields. So we wanted to find a natural and sustainable solution to the problem.”

The young scientists turned to plants, like the Canadian Wild Rye, as a natural filtration solution.

“We made sure the plants were compatible with being in that environment and from Manitoba,” Wynonna said, adding the plants selected had large root systems and thrived in wet conditions.

“We want to create a buffer zone, or what we call a Water Garden, which contains the plants in a mesh system,” Allie said. “Only the roots are in contact with the water.”

The students envision having the plants on barges in locations near the shore of the lake.In their tests, they found that the roots removed a significant amount of phosphorus from the water. The plants would eventually be composted, converted to soil and brought to areas that need extra phosphorus.

With Lake Winnipeg recently being named the most endangered lake in the world, the girls’ project definitely merits a closer look. Their work certainly attracted attention in Windsor at the Canada Wide fair, where the students earned bronze medals as well as entrance scholarships to the University of Western Ontario.

A highlight of the event was meeting students from all over Canada.

“They were like mirror images of ourselves, but they were also different because of the where they were living. They’re all trying to fix problems and help out the people around them,” Wynonna said.

Allie and Wynonna said they plan on taking their ideas to provincial officials to aid in Lake Winnipeg preservation efforts.

Also selected to attend the Canada Wide fair was Grant Park High School’s Jack Osiowy for his project “Linear vs. Logarithmic Changes: What Works Best for Human Senses?”

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