History - Success stories - Milano 1997

Serguei Idiatoulin (R)

Second prize for his project on the "Preparation of Chromiferous Coatings to Absorb Solar Energy". The competition gave him the opportunity to get in touch "with fellow participants from many European countries. The atmosphere was friendly all through the five days of the EU Contest". It all started in the spring of 1997, when he won access to the EU finals from the Russian vast National Contest.

"My trip to Milano was the first time I travelled abroad. I remember well the moment we landed in Milano, and how I realised the fact that no one spoke Russian anymore around me. It was the first time I experienced that".
Serguei recalls the warm welcome of the student-helpers and the first dinner in a Milanese restaurant, where he was able to taste pizza for the first time in his life. He was most impressed by the close contact between organisers and contestants.
One of the brightest impressions he had was the visit to the European Joint Research Centre in Ispra. The environmental concern of the activities of the Centre had always attracted him very strongly. And then the last days of the Contest arrived. He felt mixed emotions: he was sad to be about to leave that fantastic city but, on the other hand, he was satisfied by the realisation of his dreams and expectations. When he was awarded the diploma he felt as if he were a film star. He still keeps in touch with very good friends he made at the EU Contest. Communication amongst visitors, contestants and members of the Jury was pleasant and very fruitful. It all convinced me of the importance of my research. He believes that technology transfer and co-operation amongst young scientists are successfully promoted by events like the EU Contest in Milano. Two years after, he still considers the EU Contest as an unforgettable event and he wishes he could "return to by means of a time-machine. Actually this could be my next project!".

He is now a fourth-year student at the Astrakhan State Technical University. His interest in environmental protection has swapped from Solar Photo-Voltaic Technology to the study of ecological and safe ways of removing oil from water surfaces.
The Russian tanker "Nahodka" sunk in the Sea of Japan in January 1997. Ecological catastrophes like that are numerous nowadays, and they have forced the international community to take measures to combat oil pollution once the disaster has occurred. He is currently developing a system destined to recover oil from water. He is utilising a material that he calls "Protector". The process is simple but very effective.

During the first part of the process, polluted water enters a solar reactor, where it is then mixed up with Protector, which is a porous material that absorbs the oil. Water is then filtered and returned clean to normal use by means of a solar reactor and a thermal processing. The second section of the device deals with the remaining mass of oil and Protector. They are split into usable oil for Petrochemical industries and Protector, which is available for recurrent utilisation.

The main components that Serguei has had to tackle are the Protector and the coating destined to produce the required solar reaction.
Protector is a crystalline material, completely derived from natural components. He describes it as ecologically safe, cheap, capable of recurrent usage, and not soluble in water. Besides, Protector does not alter the chemical and physical characteristics of oil. Concerning the coating used for the solar reaction, he assures that it does not make use of chemical solutions whatsoever. The main component of the coating is aluminium, which at the same time relieves the weight of the device. Serguei describes this coating as cheap, steadfast to corrosion, light, easily divisible without any deformation, and flexible.

Eike Huebner (D)

First Prize and Travel Award to the Nobel Prize Ceremony for the project called "Permanent Self-conducting Polymers".
He has kept in touch with some of the members of the German and Swiss teams. The anecdote he remembers the best is that his chair broke while he was sitting on it during the discussion with the members of the Jury: "it was an obviously funny experience to watch me reassembling and soldering the chair".

His project studied the use of conducting polymers as a substitute for standard metal-wires. Microchip and space industries would be possible recipients of future improvements on these materials. Eike has already patented his work and he does intend to further improve it in the spare time he might have at University: "there is still some trouble with obtaining a simpler synthesis and a better conductivity. This must be solved and I have got quite a lot of ideas to try out. The real problem is that conductivity varies too strongly from synthesis to synthesis. This is caused by the heterogeneous catalysing system. In other words, conductivity has to be improved in order to use the polymer in thicker films and/or longer connections such as small wires".

He has been doing his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Konstanz since October 1998. He will have finished by next spring. From then on, he would love to find an occupation in a research laboratory dealing either with organic and metallic chemistry or pharmaceutical products.

The contest was, according to him, a very attractive way of "exchanging ideas with people from different countries" and of the same age.

Gábor Ivánka (H)

Gábor won a third prize in Milan 1997 with a project titled "MATIKA: The Game To Solve Your Mathematical Problems".
He admits that his project put an end to "a long research, and at the same time it was the beginning of another long way in order to obtain patents and managing the invention". He obtained two patents in both Romania and Hungary: "at this very moment there is a company in Romania that is distributing my game. Next April the software will be available to the public in Romania's stores. It will be exported to a few countries as well".
Gábor was quite happy to attend the Youth Conference in Brussels (1998). The meeting gathered together successful participants in many European Commission programmes and "it became an occasion to re-meet contestants from Milan 1997".

He believes that the interdisciplinary nature of the EU Contest definitely helps to popularise science, "thus increasing its attractiveness and improving its understanding. Personally, the EU Contest has had multiple impacts in my career. It is one of the highest points of my CV, and I made lots of acquaintances thanks to it. It was a big satisfaction after all the work I had been through".

Right after the EU Contest in Milano, he won another prize at a scientific competition called EUREKA' 99 in Brussels. Gábor is now studying mathematics at Löránd Eotvös University of Science (Budapest). The fourth year of his degree almost completed, he is thinking about going for the PhD: "the fields I am interested in are statistics and probability".

Bernardo Silva e Carmo (P)

Bernardo won a Second Prize in Milan 1997, as well as the travel award to the London International Youth Science Forum. His project focused on "A Control Centre for School Experiments".

He remembers the assessment of the Jury as "one of the scariest moments, but really paid off in the end!" Bernardo reckons that the young scientists attending the Contest in Milano "were really good in their own fields, and I learnt so much in terms of excellence, relevance and motivation for research. It also made me change from an industrial perspective towards a multidisciplinary and more academic approach. This has later had a decisive impact in my career choices".

Right after the Milano Contest, Bernardo organised his own school's first science fair and founded a science club as well: "I also prepared other activities, specially targeted at students who are considering taking up a career in science. People who, for various reasons, are not able to carry out their ambitions".

He is currently studying Computer Engineering at the University of Southampton (UK). He describes the coursework as challenging and "extremely well prepared. I have had many chances to put the project I presented in Milan to further use. Actually some issues being taught now in my final year were part of my project then. One of my lecturers said I had gained invaluable experience and knowledge thanks to it". He has now received a conditional offer to take up a PhD on Medical Ultrasound Tomography at the University of Cambridge, which he plans to start in September 2000. During the interview leading to this offer, "the project and my participation in the EU Contest were again a decisive factor".
Bernardo was also successful at the European Space Agency's Contest, where he presented a proposal for a new approach to supporting animal life in the International Space Station.

When I am asked if the EU Contest for Young Scientists changed my life and career decisions, the answer is an absolute yes". Bernardo confesses that, while working on his project, he made valuable industrial and academic contacts that would not have been possible otherwise. He thinks science is a difficult subject, but "thanks to the EU Contest I had the motivation to approach it not as a struggle, but as something exciting, fascinating and fun!"

He has no doubts about the pivotal role the Contest has played in his life: "not only did it influence my plans, but it also enabled me to carry out those very plans. In a more long-term perspective, it has helped me to build a strong sense of European citizenship and competitiveness, as well as a vision of the Europe I want to live in. Having moved to England three years ago, sometimes people ask me whether I am English or Portuguese. And I always recall all those fond memories from Milan 1997 and answer that I am European".

Christoph Lippuner (CH)

A project about "The digestive system of carnivorous plants" won him and his fellow participant, Antoine Wüthrich, a First Prize in Milan 1997.

He summarises the EU Contest in a few sentences: "a unique event where I made acquaintances with many people all over Europe, a lot of interesting discussions with interesting people, and a lot to eat".

The Award ceremony is the memory he cherishes the best: "we sat inside the impressive Town Hall of Milano. Many speakers developed their speeches and the atmosphere became quite stressing. Then they began to list the participants with no prices. My colleague and I had not heard our names. We thought that they had missed us. Then the Third Prize winners, the Second Prize winners… We had not heard our names yet. We said to ourselves that it could not be possible. There had to be a mistake. And then the First Prizes, when we finally heard our names being pronounced. It was like in a dream; we stood up, and there was a big applause a lot of flashes from cameras. It was a unique feeling. Then we heard we have won the Alumni prize too. Quite difficult to describe with words".

The EU Contest had its anecdotes for Christoph as well, like that one in which a family came to visit their stand and asked them if they could watch as the carnivorous plants in the stand ate three mosquitoes they had caught at home. According to Christoph, they were a bit scared and asked permission to do it because "maybe it was too dangerous". But Christoph has become a sort of authority in his field: he was even invited to an International Carnivorous Plants Congress in Bonn (1998) to present his project to the specialists meeting there.

Right after his First Prize, Christoph began to study biology at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zürich. The first year he chose Chemistry, but in the second one he opted for a mixture between organic chemistry, biochemistry and biology. His current course deals with immunology, genetics, biochemistry, cellular biology, etc. He will have finished his degree by autumn 2001, and then he intends to undertake a PhD.

He thinks he will be able to go to Maastricht in spring in order to follow some practical training in genetics with professor Joseph Geraedts. Mr. Geraedts was one of the members of the Jury in Milano 1997. During the summer he expects to be able to go to the University of Uppsala (Finland) to complete another training scheme in immunology. And many more things, apart from his remarkable scientific goals: "I want to experience many new things and I want to learn about other languages as well as about other cultures".

He had not been 100% sure about following a career in biology before the First Prize in Milano.
He was specially shocked about the attention received by the press and the media: "I suppose they realised that prize winners were capable of doing a very respectable work". In his opinion, the participation in the EU Contest makes it easier to find interesting jobs afterwards, as well as being a very enjoyable experience itself. Besides, he personally improved his presentation skills by thoroughly explaining his research to the public and to the Jury members.

Renée Filion (C)

ISEF guest. She presented a project alongside with her brother Stéfane Filion: "Probing the Depths". It was the result of a whole year of activity. They designed and created a submersible probe analogous to an underwater satellite. Renée explains that it is equipped with 8 sensors, and programmed using a pen laser: "SPI (Submersible Probe with Intelligence) is non/tethered and highly adaptable to different applications. For example, you could tell SPI to dive to a depth of 20 metres, remain at that depth and log the temperature of the water every minute over a course of 10 hours. Then it could return to the surface and download the information. SPI could also be used to map water currents (a very beneficial knowledge in the case of, i. e., a tral derailment near a water body or an oil spill)". It could as well take precise water column readings, log important characteristic information during spring and fall turnover events, and search for underwater springs, among many other possibilities.

By simply shining a laser pen on a few LED's on the motherboard, you can program SPI, without ever taking it apart, to dive to a specified depth. It will then hover at that depth for a specified amount of time while logging information from each of its 8 sensors at intervals of 1 minute. The sensors onboard are easily changeable, and so the versatility of SPI is widely increased.

From their experience at the EU Contest, she remembers that "it was my first time across the Atlantic Ocean, and my first trip to Europe". She and her brother were most excited because, "coming from a small city in Northern Ontario (Canada), I was really baffled and impressed by the incredible diversity in cultures and languages. Being fluently bilingual in both of Canada's official languages, it was a shock to find myself in a situation where I no longer understood all the languages spoken around me".

They are both attending the University of Western Ontario, in Canada. Stéfane is doing electrical engineering and she is following an individually specialised science program called "Enriched Combined Honours Program" in Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science. Although only in her second year of university, she plans to obtain her MSc and her PhD before heading into some career in education. She reckons that "with this new insight to added information and scientific breakthroughs, we are finding it even harder to decide on plausible careers or even areas of specialisation". She is actually studying all major sciences and she finds it difficult to select one over the other. She intends to continue to take as many as possible into next year.

The EU Contest was "without a doubt, the best experience of our lives and a chance of a lifetime". Renée explains how did she and her brother get to the EU finals: "In order to reach the EU contest (the farthest you go in science fair competitions in North America), we had to win numerous awards at several independent fairs. Unless victorious at the regional level, you cannot progress to the national level and, unless victorious at the national level, you cannot progress to the international level".

They were representing Canada, along with a few others, at the INTEL International Science and Engineering fair. They won one of the top awards, the Pinnacle Award, and that gave us the opportunity to represent the ISEF at the EU Contest, held in Milano the following fall. She thinks that "Stéfane and I are the first Canadians ever chosen to represent ISEF at the EU Contest. It was an incredible experience and we were both honoured to be chosen as ambassadors for the ISEF, and thrilled to have had the opportunity to participate in such a well-organised, prestigious fair".

The EU Contest "gave us the opportunity to meet other young scientists with similar interests, and to learn from each other by sharing our ideas and inventions. We learned a tremendous amount, both socially and intellectually. Each participant had a different background, a different story to tell.

Coming from different countries, speaking different languages and having different cultures, we all had something to share. Although communicating was sometimes a challenge, we shared one common interest: science. That, in the end, was the most remarkable thing". She acknowledges that, regardless of their diverse nationalities, they were all "keen young scientists willing to share our ideas and learn from others". It "opened my eyes to the world and made me realise that if we worked together, we could promise wonderful new things to the scientific community" .