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Meriden girl uses science to solve real-world problem

Stephanie Cui, Year 12

Meriden student, Stephanie Cui, has taken out first place in a scientific pitch competition with an idea that could help reduce the risk of contracting malaria.

The Year 12 student was awarded first place and the People’s Choice Award of CSIRO’s Circular Fibres Pitch-a-thon for her innovative proposal of adding lemon eucalyptus oil to natural fibres to create a fabric that repels mosquitoes.

Stephanie, who studies Biology and Chemistry at Meriden, is thrilled to have won the competition, which challenges students to generate and pitch an idea that incorporates sustainable fibres. She said her desire to solve a practical problem using science motivated her to enter the competition and inspired her pitch idea.

“I fear staying outside in summer due to being a possible target for mosquitoes, and this led me to wonder if I could make a piece of clothing that would make us immune to insect bites. This extended my thoughts to the other implications of mosquito bites other than a mere irritation. Mosquitoes are vectors for infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, the leading culprit of infant deaths in many developing countries,” said Stephanie.

In Stephanie’s pitch, titled The Mozzie Cure, she outlines the benefits of using eucalyptus oil as a natural mosquito repellent woven through garments.

“During my research, I found that existing insect repelling ingredients can cause dermatitis on the skin and are harmful to aquatic life. I decided to turn to natural, environmentally-friendly resources that have no recorded side effects,” said Stephanie.

“I discovered that lemon eucalyptus has a lower vapour pressure than volatile monoterpenes found in most plant oils and provides very high protection against a range of insect vectors. It poses no hazard to native wildlife and its by-product of spent leaves can be used as fuel or for gardening,” she said.

Stephanie hopes to complete a degree in biochemistry or molecular bioengineering at university following the HSC. She loves all things science and said she particularly enjoys applying multiple scientific concepts to solve a problem.

“I am especially interested in chemical processes and biotechnologies that can be used to promote sustainability and improve human welfare,” said Stephanie.

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