Science student aims for international prize

Nick Johnston, with his science project, which aims to let people communicate through brain waves, rather than speaking. - Brian Giebelhaus photo
Nick Johnston, with his science project, which aims to let people communicate through brain waves, rather than speaking.
— image credit: Brian Giebelhaus photo

Nick Johnston is putting the finishing touches on his science project this week as he prepares to participate in the world’s largest international pre-college science competition May 8-13.

The Grade 10 Semiahmoo Secondary student will travel to Los Angeles, Calif. next week for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where 1,600 Grade 9s-12s from 65 countries, regions and territories are to compete for more than $4 million US in scholarships and prizes.

“It’s going to be quite amazing,” said Johnston, one of just two British Columbians to attend. “I haven’t been to an event like this – (it’s) quite a big deal.”

Johnston will present the project he created to explore the communication of word and letter combinations using brain waves, essentially allowing people to communicate without speaking.

The project – called Computer-Aided Telepathic Communications – was one of 18 across the country selected by Youth Science Canada’s panel of 20 university faculty, industry researchers, educators and Team Canada alumni. It also won a gold medal at the regional science fair.

Johnston said he was motivated to create an advanced project after making it to nationals last year with his experiment that tested the transfer of data – more specifically, Romeo and Juliet – over plant roots.

“From there, I was inspired to do an even bigger project this year.”

Johnston – who has been interested in science since around Grade 3 – said he had to send in his idea and research plans for examination and undergo a phone interview before being accepted for the international challenge.

He is now building a bigger project board to display at the event, and is working on his presentation.

“The judges are at a very high level,” he said, noting he is slightly nervous. “I’m expecting there will be some people involved in the field I’m doing... so I’ll have to be ready for that.”

If he wins a monetary award, Johnston said he plans to put it towards his post-secondary education.

With ambitions to become an engineer, he is looking at attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which comes with a hefty price tag.

“I’m thinking that would be a good thing to use it for.”

Semiahmoo principal Bea Hadikin told Peace Arch News earlier this month that Johnston is a “bright kid,” and she is not surprised he was chosen for the world fair.

“Nick is incredibly accomplished but also incredibly modest,” Hadikin said, noting Johnston did the project on his own, without the support of a class, group or teacher.

“He definitely has a future in science – we’re going to probably read about him one day.”


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