Students get creative with science to tackle food issues

Students get creative with science to tackle food issues
Solar drier (Top): Twins Santhosh Kumar (left) and Sathis Ganeswaran, 14, from Boon Lay Secondary School. Their team came up with the solar drier, which preserves food and prevents wastage.

Aquaponics farm (Bottom): (From left) Cheryl Tay, 15, Sherie Amani Sukir, 15, and Rachel Tong, 16, are part of the team behind the farm which was picked as a winner at the science camp.

SINGAPORE - What comes to mind when one thinks of the technology used to keep food fresh?

Perhaps a refrigerator, or even an icebox.

A group of five Secondary 3 students have come up with a fresh idea though: a "solar drier" made with just a styrofoam box.

The prototype, which removes moisture from food without having to be plugged into a power point, was just one of 10 invented by students taking part in a science camp last month.

The other prototypes - models that could be scaled up or further developed - deal with things such as food production or the prevention of food wastage.

Some 70 Secondary 3 Normal (Technical) students took part in The Shell Singapore Youth Science Festival Innovation Camp, last month, which is now in its second year.

The event was jointly organised by Science Centre Singapore, the Science Teachers' Association of Singapore and Shell Companies in Singapore.

At the end of the four-day camp on June 27, two prototypes were chosen as winners.

The first was the solar drier, roughly the size of two cartons of A4 paper and fitted with a small computer fan powered by solar energy or a battery.

By channelling water vapour inside the box to the surroundings, the fan helps reduce the humidity inside, which in turn speeds up the rate at which moisture in the food evaporates.

Team member Santhosh Kumar Ganeswaran, 14, said the drier would enable food, such as apples, to be preserved and prevent wastage.

The Boon Lay Secondary School student added: "This could benefit vulnerable populations who may not have access to electricity." The other winner was an aquaponics farm set-up, a system that channels waste produced by fish to plants.

It has a light sensor which switches on a lamp if it detects insufficient sunlight for photosynthesis.

The set-up involved two tanks stacked atop each other - the bottom one contains aquarium fish while the top holds plants such as Indian basil and dill.

Using a pump, water containing waste produced by the fish is pumped into the tank containing the plants.

The fish waste provides nutrients for the plants, and the waste water trickling back into the fish tank is purified as it passes through the layers of small rocks in the upper tank.

Ms Chan Win Sim, production excellence manager for organiser Shell, said the prototypes created by the students "demonstrate creativity, innovation and the use of science to address food and energy challenges".

This article was first published on July 28, 2014.
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