Loudoun Students’ Research Catches National Attention

Loudoun high school seniors Liam Wallace and Wyatt Pontius are making national headlines for their science research project.

The two Academy of Science students were recently featured in Popular Mechanics magazine after winning a slew of awards at several science competitions.

Wallace and Pontius have figured out how to make a synthetic leaf, according to a press release from Loudoun County Public Schools. The leaf consists of mesh fibers in which they have embedded Cyanobacteria, a kind of bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis. Through their experiment, the students created a leaf that produces 50 percent more oxygen than a spinach leaf.

The project earned its first award at the Loudoun County Public Schools Regional Science and Engineering Fair in March, where it placed second in the Materials and Bioengineering category. Wallace and Pontius also were recognized with first-place awards in the NOVA Enrichment Academy Young Scientist category.

A second-place finish at the local science fair qualified the team to compete at the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair at the Virginia Military Institute. There, Wallace and Pontius won the Leidos First Place Award in Applied Sciences and a third Grand Prize for the overall fair.

That set them up to enter the Intel International Science Fair in Pittsburgh in May. They took home a first-place award and a $3,000 prize in the Materials Science category. They were recognized with the United States Steel Award for Innovative Materials and a First Prize Special Award from Sigma Xi Research Society for Excellence in Team Research.

The project also was honored with top marks at the Hwa Chong Institute Science Fair for Wallace and Pontius’ collaboration with students from Singapore.

Wallace and Pontius are still at work to improve their research. Pontius wants to see if the synthetic leaf can be improved to produce both oxygen and glucose so that it could become a food source. Meanwhile, Wallace is looking to try the experiment with another kind of bacteria to see whether it might be able to remove carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to improve workplace safety.

The pair also is considering applying for a patent for their discovery.

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