Farah El-Akkad meets future Egyptian scientists
Imbued with ambition, poise and confidence, a group of young Egyptian students decide to follow their dreams. Yomna Yasser, Clara Zaki and Ola Ezzat are among 10 students who qualified to represent Egypt in the Intel Company International Science Fair held annually in the US.
Yasser, a Grade 11 American diploma student in Cairo, invented "bio-fuel" from the peel of the Jatropha tree. Yasser has been fond of science ever since her primary school days and competed in many science fairs in the US. However, her talents were not "appreciated at first", she says. But unlike other students, she didn't give up. Yasser returned home with a totally new perspective -- a keen desire to do something different. Taking notes from the professors at the science fairs she attended, "I took the judges' advice that I should further develop my innovations, and that's exactly what I did."
The idea of her winning invention first came to Yasser when she observed the number of villages in Egypt that did not have electricity; she then decided to dig deep. "It wasn't planned," she says. After many experiments, Yasser discovered that after burning the peel of the Jatropha tree it produced potassium oxide combined with hydroxide. By excreting alcohol from agricultural wastes, she was able to produce bio-fuel. "The Jatropha tree is more of an undiscovered miracle," Yasser says. "It does not need pure water for irrigation and can live on wastewater alone. Moreover, it takes just two years to grow but keeps on producing for up to 40 years. And it can grow in the desert, which is very suited to Egypt's environment."
Yasser's invention was based in a "no electricity" village of approximately 200 homes. She was able to calculate how far her idea would affect the average life of people there. She believes that people's lives will gradually improve, that they will have better healthcare, better schools and will learn to be self-sufficient. "They can also learn about the other uses of this wonderful tree such as the production of glycerin, which can turn into a small business for the villagers. "It will only take a couple of years to actually make it happen, and will most definitely make a difference to our society as a whole."
Clara Zaki and Ola Ezzat are two 12th grade students from Alexandria whose main area of interest is chemistry. What is truly unique about Zaki and Ezzat's idea is that it is wholly from their surroundings. Zaki recalls that she and Ezzat were sitting by the school fence one day and noticed how rusty it was. Needless to say, due to the coastal climate, rust affects virtually anything in Alexandria made of metal.
After some deep thinking, the two of them decided to try and come up with something to avoid metal rust. They spent around six months experimenting on various natural plants such as the tea tree, until they discovered that rice straw was the answer. Instead of burning the cheap plant and causing more pollution, Zaki and Ezzat found that when metal is exposed to water combined with rice straw, it remains rust-free.
They have tried experiments on different kinds of metals such as copper, zinc, aluminum and stainless steel, and are currently attempting to add the new material to paint, so as to facilitate its use.
These fresh young talents are a true inspiration, not only to young folks but to people of all ages. Though their inventions are presented here, this hardly does justice to the passion with which they talk about their work, and what they wish to do for this country. It is those faces that give us hope for a better future.