Puerto Rican High Schooler Awarded Recognition in International Top Science Competition

06/08/ 2016

Millions of high schoolers around the world enter a science competition every year. Of those, only several thousand students in grades 9–12 participate in the topmost levels of competition. One of the most prestigious competitions out there is the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), in which Francisco Alvarado participated this past May 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Approximately 1,750 high schoolers from all over the world including 77 countries and territories had the opportunity to showcase their talent by presenting their original science projects to an audience of international judges. Projects were presented in different categories, such as Life Sciences, Earth Sciences, Physical Sciences, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. However, before proceeding to this international competition, participants had to successfully compete for their local, regional and national affiliated fairs. Francisco, an 11thgrader from Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola high school, was one the Boricuas who made it to the final round held in Phoenix and one of 50 finalists who received a recognition from the Organization of American States among 1,007 projects nominated for such distinction.

Francisco developed an Environmental Sciences project that was not only relevant to current science and technology, but also beneficial to society. These were some of the main requirements for participating in the science fair. The aim of Francisco’s project was to look for potential solutions to address Puerto Rico’s current energy crisis and the concomitant impacts of global climate change. With a high level of original thought and development, Francisco hypothesized that turning agricultural wastes into usable energy would benefit the island of Puerto Rico in more ways than one. With this project in mind, Francisco sought the mentorship of 2 faculty members in Environmental Sciences, Drs. Clifford Louime and Gary Gervais and 1 Chemistry Faculty, Dr. Liz Diaz. Exposing high schoolers to the latest state-of-the art technologies, such as TCL (Thermochemical liquefaction), GC-MS (gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry) and AAS (Atomic Absorption Spectrometry) has once more proven to be a winning recipe. In his project, Francisco studied the potential for turning plantain waste, which is readily available in Puerto Rico, into biochar or organic charcoal. The plantain waste was also mixed with seaweed or Sargassum, which is naturally occurring and has been invading the beaches of the Caribbean for the past few years.

“We are extremely proud of Francisco’s accomplishment. This goes to show the caliber of students we are producing on the island. With the support of our gracious faculty and particularly the parents being heavily involved in the education of the youth, we can be very competitive on the international level”, stated Dr. Jorge Ortiz, the Director of the Department of Environmental Sciences. The department is committed to continue working with local high schools, which represent a potent talent pool for recruitment to our various academic programs in the Natural Sciences