Although Justin Whitaker may not have discovered his love of science until his final years of high school, it is clear that not only did he find his passion, but he tapped into something he has an amazing talent for as well.
Now a second-year biosciences student, Justin began his relationship with uOttawa before he even enrolled. In his last year of high school at Moira Secondary School in Belleville, Ontario, he started a project to study soil, specifically to explore how the use of a ureolytic bacterium could induce calcification in a saturated soil base, thereby cementing it. The hope was that this cementation process could be used to stabilize the foundations of buildings so that, during events such as earthquakes, the structural damages caused by seismic shaking could be effectively reduced.
It was soon clear to Justin that to take his project to the next level of testing, he would need to contact professionals in engineering and science. He decided to get in touch with professors at a number of the universities he had applied to, hoping to spark their interest in working with him. The only person interested was Sai Vanapalli, Department Chair and Professor at uOttawa’s Faculty of Engineering. The relationship Justin built with Professor Vanapalli, combined with the scholarship money he was offered, made the University of Ottawa his clear choice for undergraduate studies.
In his second year at the University, Justin was awarded a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) bursary. The bursary is designed to give students an opportunity to spend a semester getting hands-on research experience. Justin chose to continue working on his soil cementation project as an interdisciplinary venture between the faculties of Science and Engineering. The preliminary results of his research indicate that the solidification reaction could be successfully applied to help prevent structural damage during earthquakes. The program wrapped up with a symposium in March, where participants were given the opportunity to present their findings. Justin’s project placed first out of over 250 presentations.
“The UROP program is an excellent opportunity for undergraduate students to partake in what could be their first research study at the university level,” says Whitaker. “The program helps you become not only a stronger researcher, but also a more aware student in your field of study, as over the semester you come to understand what it truly means to be a researcher, and that academics mean more than what you find in a textbook.”
Building on his outstanding recent achievements, Justin will be spending his summer in Germany as a recipient of the DAAD RISE scholarship, giving him the opportunity to take part in a science internship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, of the over 1,700 applicants to the program, Justin was chosen first overall out of the few hundred selected.
The call for applications to the DAAD-RISE (undergraduate) and DAAD-RISE Professional (graduate) programs will reopen in December 2012. For researchers interested in hosting a German student for the DAAD-Worldwide program, please contact the International Office, the Office of International Research or visit the DAAD-RISE site at http://www.daad.de/rise-programs for more details.