Student wins gold in Beijing for dieback cure research

Jackson Lavell-LeeBusselton Dunsborough Times
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Violette Otto and St Mary Mackillop student Shona Kiely with their gold medals in Beijing
Camera IconViolette Otto and St Mary Mackillop student Shona Kiely with their gold medals in Beijing Credit: Supplied

St Mary Mackillop College student Shona Kiely has won gold at the 39th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition for her innovative research project investigating a cure for phytophthora dieback.

In 2019, 196 projects were selected from more than 1000 submissions to compete with 157 from Beijing, and 39 were from international delegations. Only five gold medals and five silver medals were awarded.

Shona, a 16-year-old from Yallingup, said she was inspired by the native vegetation surrounding her family’s three-acre property, especially Banksia shrubs which were affected by dieback. “I was passionate about creating change with my project, the results can really help the environment,” she said.

“Because dieback affects over half of the Australian native trees I wanted to protect them so I mimicked the effect of dropping the solution on a large area to treat hundreds of trees at a time.”

The Year 11 student developed a water diluted phosphite fungicide that can be sprayed on leaves as well as roots to cure the quickly spreading floral disease.

Scitech executive Deb Banning said Beijing Bound was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It creates a bridge between education and industry to give students a realistic understanding of what a career in science, technology, engineering and maths involves and it encourages an innovative approach to traditional education that inspires and informs with extremely positive results,” she said.

Rio Tinto managing director Matthew Holcz said Rio Tinto was committed to building STEM capacity in future generations.

“We’re excited to be supporting this program and making our employees available as mentors to inspire these students,” he said.

Shona said: “It was such an amazing experience, I have to thank my mentor Theresa Nguyen for helping me build a strong submission and increasing my knowledge of the scientific report process.”

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