Adam and Shayla made a scientific breakthrough that might transform a billion-dollar industry. But their parents still expect them to set the table.
By Farrah MeraliFrom Reader’s Digest Canada, June 2012
Hidden near the end of a coiling side road in Buckhorn, Ont., sits the Larson residence: an open-concept home with high ceilings and tall windows. It’s dinnertime and Shayla Larson and Adam Noble are bickering about what kind of animal heart they dissected in their Grade 11 biology class. Shayla thinks it was a pig. Adam says rat. “We’ve been referred to as ‘the old married couple,’” says Shayla.
Like most kids their age, Adam, 18, and Shayla, 17, have lots of friends, enjoy playing sports and love to party. And yet, you can’t quite call them typical. The teens are obsessed with nanosilver: microscopic, germ-fighting bits of silver found in everything from riding helmets to toothpaste to baby pacifiers. Silver’s potent antibacterial powers were well known even to the ancient Greeks, who used the metal for plates and jugs to combat spoilage. For the last 60 years, silver has been broken down into tiny concentrations for a range of commercial applications, such as swimming pool cleaners, but the advent of nanotechnology has accelerated its introduction into hundreds of new products. The medical community, for example, is excited by the prospect of nano-silverized bone pins, catheters and artificial body parts—three of the many medical devices that can act as carriers for infection.
Adam and Shayla, however, have learned the miracle component isn’t all it’s hyped to be. After months of research, they proved the chemical is also kryptonite for euglena, a lake-based algae deemed an “indicator species,” or an ecological early-warning system that signals environmental pollution. The discovery that euglena are harmed by nanosilver is a vindication for nanotech critics worried about the lack of research on the full array of nanoparticles now entering the environment. Should Adam and Shayla’s research eventually prove nanosilver is toxic to human cells, the finding could cripple the nanosilver trade, currently a multi-billion-dollar industry.
In May 2011, the teens earned one of four $4,000 Young Canadian Innovation Awards; the annual competition takes place at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, held that year in Markham, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. (The awards are an initiative of the The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, based in Calgary.) Adam and Shayla’s project, titled “The Hazards of Nanosilver Uncovered,” beat out hundreds of other entries, among them a new search-engine algorithm and a cancer-fighting drug, and was given the science fair’s gold prize. Three months later, the nanosilver project garnered the pair an expense-paid trip to the Stockholm Junior Water Prize—the highest international award for youth in water studies—where, against finalists from almost thirty countries, they placed in the top five. Their fame followed them back home to Buckhorn, where they made local headlines—something their friends still tease them about. “When I go to a party, my friends introduce me as the super genius,” Adam says. “It’s kind of cool.”
* I found this article at my dentist's office. What drew me to read it was not the discovery these two young people made, but the fact that their parents are not treating them like celebritries and are still making them do their chores, etc.