CIC’s Ottawa-Hull section continues to play an integral role in the Expo-Sciences Régionale de l’Outaouais, the Quebec-wide science fair which has just wrapped up its 35th in the province. Retired chemist and section member Denis Bérubé oversees the judging and distribution of the prizes, which attract audiences on the order of 1,000 people or more.

“We’ve been there since the beginning,” he says, recalling how he helped to get the event going in the winter of 1984. Since then he has seen hundreds of different presentations by students at the elementary and high school level, as well as overseeing the judging and the distribution of prizes.

Among the changes he has witnessed over the decades has been a dramatic increase in the amount of information that participants can employ in their projects. Early on, he says, individuals worked in an independent fashion, often engaging in experiments to collect the data they would be presenting in their project. In addition to web access, more recent projects regularly make use of mentors, such as university scientists or Expo-Sciences alumni. This helps in implementing experiments or simply summarizing existing science in a more engaging and accessible way. “The quality has become better and better,” observes Bérubé.

This year’s Expo-Sciences Régionale de l’Outaouais was divided into two distinct events: the college and secondary levels, held in March, and the elementary school level, held in May. It was in fact the first time a competition focused exclusively on these younger students, something that Bérubé found to be stimulating. “What is noticeable is the progress made in elementary schools, where students, teachers as well as parents have become very enthusiastic,” he says, suggesting that early interest in science is more likely to last a lifetime. “The quality is improving and it’s good for the future.”

Prize winners from this year’s Expo-Sciences Régionale de l’Outaouais:

1st prize:
“Piratage Endocrinien”
Simon Gélinas et Nicolas Beaulne, Secondaire 5, École Polyvalente Nicolas-Gatineau.

This project addressed the problem of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDC). After describing the glands and important role of the endocrine (hormonal) system, there was a discussion of the numerous mechanisms by which EDCs can quietly disturb our health, such as interference with chemical receptors, preventing messenger penetration in target cells, or interference with biosynthesis, inhibiting protein action. Considering their subtle but important effects on fundamental biological functions such as reproduction, development, and adult health, it is important to identify EDCs as well as their sources, including various foods, plastics and cosmetics. 

2nd prize:
“Et la lumière fut!”
Mélodie Michaud-Nault et David Plourde, Secondaire 5, École Secondaire du Versant.

This project described how 99% of all sunlight stops at ocean depths of 50 metres and it disappears altogether below 200 metres. In this dark region, more than 90% of known aquatic organisms produce light by using bioluminescence, an oxidation reaction involving luciferins and the enzyme luciferase. However, the location and triggering of this reaction differ between organisms. The emitted light is also filtered by surrounding pigments, directed by reflection, or concentrated by natural lenses made of the shell-like material chitin. This light plays a role in communication and feeding, which includes an ability to attract prey or repulse predators.

3rd prize (primary level):
“Les allergies alimentaires”
Camille Mouton et Anne Lacroix, Primaire 4, École Massé.

This project offered examples of the most common and hazardous food allergies, as well as their causes. Visitors were shown examples of allergy symptoms, along with training in the use of an EpiPen, which they might one day need to use during the occurrence of a life-threatening allergic reaction.