Yan places third at international Sustainability Solutions Science Fair


Tucker Jaudon

MSMS senior, Jessica Yan, wins third place at international science fair.

Natalia Igwebuike, Staff Writer

MSMS senior Jessica Yan received third place for the Sustainable Earth Innovation Award and a five hundred dollar cash prize Nov. 15 from the Sustainability Solutions Science Fair, a competition with more than 100 submissions from around the world that challenges innovators to find solutions to environmental issues within their community.

Yan’s project, Lignin Foam: A Sustainable Biosorbent for Removal of Heavy Metals and Spilled Oil from Polluted Water, focuses on removing pollutants and contaminants from water through the use of a reinforced foam primarily made from lignin, a complex organic polymer found in the cell walls of many plants. Her research aims to find resourceful solutions to water crises for her community as well as rural and marginalized communities who often bear these problems.

Yan said she was excited to receive the award and see the success of her research.

“Initially, I didn’t plan on entering the Sustainability Solutions Science Fair because I thought I didn’t have a chance at placing at all,” Yan said. “However, over the course of developing my research and competing in other fairs that have given me lots of confidence and valuable comments in further continuing my research, I wanted to compete in this higher-level fair to see how well I could do. After finding out that I earned third place, it made me feel that all my years spent working on this research and numerous efforts were finally being rewarded.”

Yan was first inspired to start her project after learning about the Flint water crisis, a water health emergency in Flint, Mich. that came to light in 2014. Her research was divided into two parts: the first involved researching lignin and how it can be transformed into a porous foam structure from essentially wood powder, and the second continued on with improving the foam’s ability to efficiently remove pollutants from water. From her four years of research, Yan was able to discover plastic waste and wood waste could be added to lignin to remove pollutants from water at a faster rate.

“The reason these foams can remove both heavy metals and oils from water is because of the functional groups found within the structures of lignin, plastic, and wood waste,” Yan said. “Overall, reinforced lignin foams are low-cost, sustainable adsorbents that utilize various waste materials that would’ve gone to landfills if not otherwise used to create these foams.”

Science teacher Dr. Tina Gibson applauded Yan on her dedication to the project.

“I am very proud of Jessica winning this award,” Gibson said. “It’s a competition that encompasses several countries and having her place in this competition is quite an accomplishment. Keep in mind I would have been proud of Jessica had she not placed in this competition. Her perseverance and dedication to research is commendable.”

Director of Academic Affairs Dr. Clear Moore said she was proud to see the potential outcomes of Yan’s research.

“Her work could help to mitigate the environmental impact of oil spills.” Moore said. “One of the unique opportunities for students at MSMS is to participate in this level of research during high school. Jessica is a shining example of our best and brightest working to solve real world problems.”

Yan will now defend her project at the regional science fair in February. Through her research, Yan said she hopes to educate her community about disastrous water crises and encourage others around her to help find other solutions to removing polluted water

“This project is especially meaningful to me because this is exactly what I want to do with my life in the future,” Yan said. “This is what I want to continue to research while also developing new solutions to the environmental problems we face today. This is like my calling. I want to spend the rest of my time designing and implementing solutions to resolve environmental issues communities around the world face. I want to continue to fight America’s dirty secret through research and continuous learning.”