Bright-eyed stu­dent wins $50,000

Central Leader - - NEWS -

A re­search project that in­volved con­struct­ing tiny pairs of glasses for chick­ens has won a school girl the Prime Min­is­ter’s Fu­ture Sci­en­tist Prize worth $50,000.

Han­nah Ng re­ceived her award from Prime Min­is­ter John Key in a cer­e­mony held in Welling­ton last week.

‘‘He’s quite a friendly per­son, I got to have a bit of small talk with him. It was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ the 17-year-old says.

The St Cuth­bert’s Col­lege stu­dent re­ceived the award for her study into my­opia, or short­sight­ed­ness, a con­di­tion that af­fects up to 40 per cent of Euro­peans and 90 per cent of some Asian pop­u­la­tions.

She be­gan the study af­ter re­ceiv­ing the Lig­gins In­sti­tute men­tor pro­gramme four years ago. The project saw Han­nah work­ing along­side re­searchers at the Auck­land Univer­sity’s My­opia Lab­o­ra­tory at age 14.

‘‘It was a bit be­wil­der­ing at first, it was con­fus­ing and I felt like I didn’t quite fit in, but they were very en­cour­ag­ing,’’ she says.

As part of her study Miss Ng built sets of multi-fo­cal lenses, sim­i­lar to mini gog­gles that were placed over the eyes of chicks. The goal was to in­ves­ti­gate the dif­fer­ent ef­fects on the bird’s vi­sion.

‘‘They were quite dif­fi­cult to make; they were so tricky tech­ni­cally. I had to make a few pairs for my­self to try them out first.’’

Through her ex­per­i­men­ta­tion she found that pre­scribed glasses do not ac­com­mo­date for pe­riph­eral vi­sion so the blur­ring that a be­spec­ta­cled per­son still sees to their left and right can ex­ac­er­bate the my­opia.

Prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor John Phillips says the study is of the same com­plex­ity as those con­ducted by univer­sity stu­dents. He says Miss Ng is self-mo­ti­vated and good at get­ting things done.

‘‘Her abil­ity to see the big­ger pic­ture while also be­ing able to fo­cus on the im­por­tant el­e­ments of the prob­lem is an in­di­ca­tion of her in­tel­lec­tual ma­tu­rity.’’

Miss Ng will be con­tin­u­ing her study at the univer­sity lab dur­ing the sum­mer be­fore head­ing to univer­sity next year to start on a pre-med course be­fore go­ing into medicine.

‘‘I want to con­sider dif­fer­ent fields of medicine and see what op­tions are avail­able be­fore I make a fi­nal de­ci­sion,’’ she says.

Her long-term dream would see her work­ing in Cam­bo­dia, and she has even been learn­ing a di­alect from her grand­fa­ther.

‘‘They have a short­age of doc­tors there, and it is quite poor, so I would like to work there and help.’’

St Cuth­bert’s prin­ci­pal Lynda Reid says her stu­dent grasps op­por­tu­ni­ties with both hands.

‘‘Han­nah has a gen­uine cu­rios­ity about the world, al­ways ask­ing thought­ful ques­tions that ex­plore sci­ence at a deeper level.’’

The $50,000 prize will be put to­wards univer­sity study for Miss Ng, who is still fi­nal­is­ing where she will at­tend.

Award win­ner: Han­nah Ng, 17, won the Prime Min­is­ter’s Fu­ture Sci­en­tist Prize for her study into short­sight­ed­ness.

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