Spotlight: 2024 SCWIST Science Fair Awardee, Stephanie Chu

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Stephanie standing in front of a science fair project titled 'Infrared Radiative Cooling', displaying a trophy and a table with various diagrams and models.

The SCWIST Science Fair Award

Each year, we present the SCWIST Science Fair Award to young women in grades 8 to 10 at each of the 14 district Science Fairs in British Columbia and the Yukon for projects that demonstrate curiosity, ingenuity and innovation.

This year, we are honoured to have awarded Stephanie Chu with the SCWIST Science Fair Award for the Greater Vancouver area, for her project on infrared radiative cooling.

Stephanie holding the SCWIST Science Fair Award and standing in front of a science fair project titled 'Infrared Radiative Cooling', along with various diagrams and models.

Stephanie Chu is a Grade 9 student in Burnaby, BC, who embodies a passion for learning and a drive to make a difference in her community. Alongside her academic pursuits, Stephanie is actively involved in various extracurricular activities, including serving as a Student Council representative and participating in the school’s Leadership team. She enjoys engaging in science fairs and other team events and competitions in math, robotics and swimming.

Could you tell us about your project for this year’s science fair?

The research topic I chose for this year’s science fair was finding ways to cool down our living spaces and the environment without consuming energy or generating more heat. AC systems use a lot of electricity to cool a room and in doing so, generate more heat that has to be released into the surroundings, which contributes to raising the temperature of the environment. I wanted to see if there was a more environmentally- and cost-friendly alternative to cool down our spaces and so I decided to focus on the relationship between colour and heat and Infrared Radiative cooling for my science fair project. Infrared radiation is what we recognize as heat, and greenhouse gases keep them trapped in our atmosphere.

To do this, I found some materials that reflect the infrared band that can send heat energy through the Earth’s atmosphere and into space, rather than keeping it in the Earth’s atmosphere!

I found two products with this characteristic: Calcium Carbonate and Barium Sulfate. Both of these compounds have a high refractive index and low thermal conductivity. They are safe to work with, easy to find, and available at a low cost. For my project, I created different paints with them and compared their effectiveness in reflecting and emitting heat relative to the various industrial paints sold in hardware stores.

Tabletop with two labeled plastic bags, each filled with a white mixtures, a mortar and pestle, a container of Vaseline, prescription bottles, a measuring glass and a permanent marker.

I took temperature samples throughout the year (from August until January) and plotted the data
on graphs that made it easy for me to present.

So what did you learn from your experiments?

I used a variety of colours of paints: blue, red, yellow, black and white, and found that the white paints showed the lowest temperatures in all settings. The white paints with barium sulfate and calcium carbonate mixed in showed slightly lower temperature than the white paint with the titanium oxide.

However, I also learned that the paints available on the market may reflect most of the sunlight, but do not make surfaces cooler than their surroundings.

How did you come up with this idea?

The last few summers have been very hot and we live in an old house with no AC. I was thinking of ways we can cool down the house, making it more comfortable without spending too much money. Ideally, using little or no energy so that we do not harm the environment in the process. That is what motivated me to start looking for ideas, and it then turned into a research project.

Every venture has highlights and challenges, what were the most challenging aspects of this project?

I was looking for materials I could use that are readily available, easy to obtain, and low-cost, but most research papers and studies are done in sophisticated labs with very complicated equipment.

Additionally, the findings from these papers were often complicated and difficult for me to understand currently. However, to keep my project viable, I had to be creative and utilize the resources available to me. As a result, most of the materials I used for my project were very accessible and were bought from hardware stores, while also being relatively affordable.

What were the most enjoyable aspects of this project?

I really enjoyed collecting the materials, making the paints and doing the painting of the samples. It was also interesting to collect data in different weather from the summer through the winter. I had to keep records of my work and had regular check-ins with my Scimatics (Science and Math) teacher, Ms. Brenda Moore. She supervised and supported me throughout the entire project, and I learned to direct my own work and studies independently. Through this process, I found that getting good marks was not my primary goal anymore, but I really wanted to learn, and hope to make something useful with it.

Do you hope to expand and continue with the work you did on this project?

Yes, there are lots of different pathways that I hope to explore further with my project. One aspect that I’m particularly interested in exploring is the architectural aspect, with emphasis on physical placement of radiative material on buildings. In further experiments, I would also like to experiment with increasing the durability of barium sulfate paints by mixing them with other coloured paints. Lastly, I would like to further explore the social, environmental, and economic impacts of affordable infrared radiative cooling methods, and to evaluate the benefits of this method based on its effectiveness and cost.

What did you learn from your experience at this year’s science fair?

There is so much to learn and to experiment with. To be specific, I really enjoy seeing the ideas and topics presented by the other participants from the different schools. I realize that there are lots of different fields of science. I am also very happy to see that there are many organizations out there to support and encourage young students like myself to pursue our interests and make useful things.

Do you have any advice for students who want to get involved in the science fair like you?

Find a topic that you enjoy learning about. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Also, it is important to find a good teacher mentor for guidance. Make it fun, and if you can, turn it into a hobby.

What’s next for you? What do you think you’d like to do in the future?

I would like to continue researching different scientific topics which will allow me to keep on exploring careers in science and technology. I would love to be involved with organizations in industries that partner with young students. It would be great to further and complement my learning.

If you are interested in learning more about Stephanie’s Infrared Radiative Cooling Project, please visit Profile – Stephanie Chu | ProjectBoard: YSC

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