Ashburn, VA (November 14, 2015) – Seniors Liam Wallace and Wyatt Pontius of the Loudoun Academy of Science (AOS) have a lot to celebrate. Their two-year science research project was recently published in Popular Mechanics after receiving a string of awards at various science competitions.
The two are even exploring the possibility of applying for a patent for the technique they’ve discovered.
In a nutshell, Wallace and Pontius have figured out how to make a synthetic leaf. The leaf consists of mesh fibers in which they have embedded Cyanobacteria. The result of their experimentation? A leaf that produces nearly 50 percent more oxygen than a spinach leaf, their control subject.
Pontius, of Potomac Falls High School, said that he started his career at AOS with one project in mind but abandoned it during the summer between his sophomore and junior years. He teamed up with Wallace, of Heritage High School, and two other students in Singapore to get this new project started.
AOS Director George Wolfe said that the students originally thought about embedding chloroplasts. He said there was much discussion about whether the chloroplasts would explode or prove to be flexible. Either way, the chloroplasts presented a lifespan challenge that was overcome with the switch to Cyanobacteria.
The project first gained attention at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Regional Science and Engineering Fair. The project garnered second place in the Materials and Bioengineering category. Wallace and Pontius also were recognized with first-place awards at the event in the NOVA Enrichment Academy Young Scientist category and the Scitel Academy Innovation.
A second-place finish at the local science fair qualified the team to compete at the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair at VMI. The students earned the Leidos First Place Award in Applied Sciences and a third Grand Prize for the overall fair.
The third Grand Prize in Virginia set the team up to enter the Intel International Science Fair in Pittsburgh last May. The students won a first-place award and a $3,000 prize in the Materials Science Category. They were recognized with the United States Steel Award for Innovative Materials and a First Prize Special Award from Sigma Xi Research Society for Excellence in Team Research.
The project also was honored with top marks at the Hwa Chong Institute Science Fair for the collaboration with the students in Singapore.
Like all good scientists, Wallace and Pontius aren’t quite finished with the project yet. Pontius is branching off the idea to see if the synthetic leaf can be improved to produce both oxygen and glucose so that it could become a food source. Wallace, on the other hand, is looking to try the experiment with another kind of bacteria to see whether it might be capable of removing carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to enhance safety in the workplace.
Both Wallace and Pontius have completed their college applications and are awaiting early decisions. Wallace plans to study biomedical engineering and business. Pontius will study an undecided field of engineering and business.