Young environmentalists sans frontiers

He may be only in high school, but Gizat Aibasov from Kazakhstan believes he has already discovered a method to clean up the air in his country.

Mr. Aibasov says his solution cleans pollutants or "scraps," which are the main cause of such problems as acid rain and global warming. His method uses a chemical scrubbing process that absorbs the harmful pollutants in stack exhaust, similar to the way a catalytic converter works in an automobile.

"Similar methods already exist, but they are very expensive for my country. My solution is cheap and adequate to all international standards," he says excitedly.

Aibasov is among the scores of young scientists, from more than a hundred countries, whose environmental solutions have won first place in their respective countries during the past year. Now, these national winners - all 20 or younger - are waiting to find out this month whether they'll be one of about 200 chosen to compete in the first global competition for young environmental scientists. The competition is sponsored by Worldwide Young Researchers for the Environment (WYRE), which is organized by two German corporations, the Jugend forscht Foundation (Young Researchers Foundation) and Deutsche Bank.

The corporations' motto: It is today's young scientists who will solve tomorrow's problems.

"That is why we see it as our task to provide a challenge for young researchers and to promote their activities in the interest of sustainable development," says Hanns Michael Hlz, head of the coordinating office for environmental affairs worldwide at Deutsche Bank.

The nominees will receive tickets to the October 2000 competition finals in Hannover, which will be part of the EXPO 2000 World Exposition.

From there, the young scientists will have an opportunity to present their research projects to an international jury of distinguished scientists. They will also "inform thousands of interested laypersons and experts - including potential users from the industrial sector - about their environmental projects," Mr. Hlz says.

Another young scientist hoping to go to the WYRE competition is Carol Fassbinder, a freshman at Iowa State University in Ames. She is in the process of patenting her discovery of a plant compound that kills an enemy of honeybees. "The varroa mite, which is the size of a pinhead and kills bees, has developed a resistance to its only approved control," says Ms. Fassbinder.

She says her passion to find a control stemmed from living on her family bee farm and "realizing how the small changes people make to the fields and air around me have a huge affect on our honeybees ... and ultimately the environment." Fassbinder notes that honeybees contribute billions to US agriculture each year. Working mainly out of her kitchen, she changed the chemical structure of a species of mint plant to make it more harmful to the mite. She and one of her professors are now testing the plant on other pests.

"I've never been to Germany, and the idea of getting 200 environmental scientists my age, from so many countries, in one room is really exciting," Fassbinder says.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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