At the GTA Awards Evening

On April 30, 2014, high school students across the GTA gathered to attend the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada awards ceremony held in the George Vari Engineering Building at Ryerson University. It was a great opportunity for students to showcase their poster projects to family, friends, judges, and other distinguished guests.

As a SBCC alumnus (’10), I was amazed to learn about the outstanding projects conducted by high school students ranging from grade 9 to 12 in research labs at hospitals, universities, and other research institutes. I was reminded by the sheer caliber of the projects that SBCC students usually show, and I was proud of the students’ accomplishments in such a short period of time.

I took the time to become acquainted with this year’s contestants to learn more about their projects, SBCC experience, and future ambitions after high school. Two contestants, Michael Liu and Bill Jia, completed a project with mentor Darius Rackus at the University of Toronto titled “Implementation of Immunoquantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction on a Digital Microfluidic System (dMIP) for Detection and Quantification of HIV p24 (and anti-p24).” To supplement their poster presentation, they brought iPads to show a video of the detailed process as well as a real model of the lab-on-a-chip they worked on.

As they explained their project to me, I could easily feel their enthusiasm and passion for their research, as well as their technical knowledge. Curious what their plans were after high school, I asked them what university and what program they wanted to pursue. They said American universities were on their radar but U of T was their Canadian choice.

Another pair of contestants, Divya Santhanam and Lauren Beck, worked on “Investigating Cooperation Between PI3K, Stat3 and Ras Signaling in Breast Cancer Initiation” at the Hospital for Sick Children with their supervisors Dr. Sean Egan and Jessica Adams. I asked them questions about their project and they happily responded with well thought out answers; I could tell they prepared much for this. I continued to browse this year’s projects and was constantly amazed by students’ research findings. It brought back memories about my own SBCC experience and how 6 years ago I was in the same spot presenting my project to people. I was very proud of the students this year and I hope that high school students will continue to show interest in SBCC.

After the poster reception, the awards ceremony followed in the Sears Auditorium where everyone gathered to find out the winners of this year’s SBCC. The ceremony was conducted by Brent Peltola from Partners in Research, the SBCC’s key organizing partner. Several distinguished guests came to give welcoming remarks to the students, including Dr. Imogen Coe (Dean, Faculty of Science, Ryerson University), Dr. Jason Field (President, Life Sciences Ontario), and Mr. Mark Lievonen (President, Sanofi Pasteur Limited). One by one, winners were announced and as the students came onto the stage, smiling in front of the camera, I felt very proud and happy for the students because I know how much work the SBCC can be, especially with the other responsibilities of a typical high school student.

As the night ended, parents and students gathered to take more pictures with their mentors and friends, as well as take the time to chat with some of the honored guests this evening. After congratulating some of the students, I left the event with much nostalgia and satisfaction knowing that because of Sanofi and its national partners, we are able to host a high-quality science fair competition that attracts the brightest students across Canada to work on groundbreaking research and gives them an experience of a lifetime.