From the young age of nine, Isabella O'Brien began wondering about the difference between bottled and tap water. Intrigued, she decided to test the water quality of both types of water in Dundas, Ontario and discovered high nitrate levels in the bottled water. Given the environmental impact of bottled water, and the fact that municipal tap water, unlike the bottled water, requires rigorous daily testing, she began to advocate to her class and teacher to switch from bottled water to using reusable bottles.
Since that moment, Isabella has been a proud advocate of good environmental solutions. At the age of 11, she learned how Dawn dish soap is a petroleum-based dish soap. Motivated by the damage a BP oil spill was having on the environment and waterfowl, in particular, she wanted to see if there was an alternative to cleaning oiled birds. Using a 100% natural based cleaning product, she attempted to boost its cleaning power by adding soy lethicin. Although not as effective as using heavily chemical based Dawn, it did boost the cleaning power of the green cleaner significantly, warranting further investigation into using this method as a green alternative to using Dawn.
Fast forward one year later when Isabella embarked on one of her biggest scientific endeavours. Isabella learned about the effects of ocean acidification on calcium-based organisms. This caused her to think about a possible method of mitigating the problem. She experimented with using waste shells (which are 95% calcium carbonate) in pulverized form in an attempt to increase pH levels and slow the effects of ocean acidification.
In recognition of this research, Isabella was awarded a gold medal an Environment Challenge award at the 2014 national Canada Wide Science Fair. In 2015, she was selected by Youth Science Canada as the Canadian representative to Broadcom MASTERS International to present her research to peers from around the world in Pittsburgh. That same year, Isabella was also named as one of the 20 global finalists in the 2015 Google Science Fair at Google headquarters in California. She was one of only two Canadians who qualified for the final, and she is the youngest Canadian, at age 13, to have ever been nominated as a global finalist.
Isabella’s most recent research has focused on the issue of calcium decline in select Ontario lakes for which she was again awarded a gold medal and an Environment Challenge award at the 2016 national Canada Wide Science Fair. This research was also featured in an exhibit at the Muskoka Discovery Centre in Gravenhurst, Ontario.
In addition to conducting environmental research, Isabella is actively engaged in the political process. She has served as an Ontario Legislative Page, participated in the Ontario Model Parliament and served on her MPs youth council. Isabella is also the Ocean Youth Ambassador for the international NGO LemonSea promoting awareness about the issue of ocean acidification.
Isabella is a prime example of what a curious mind can accomplish. Her determination and dedication to environmental stewardship has showed young minds across the country (and the world) how youth can be at the forefront of environmental change. We can't wait to see what she will accomplish in the very near future!
This article was sponsored by Friends of the Muskoka Watershed. Here’s what they have to say about Isabella:
The Friends of the Muskoka Watershed's mission is to support research to foster the understanding, choices, actions and wise management necessary to ensure the protection of our freshwater ecosystems forever. As such we congratulate Isabella for her research which reveals that spent oyster shells, currently a waste product of the marine aquaculture industry can be used to combat both acid rain, and the emerging problem acid rain has spawned, namely ecological osteoporosis. Isabella's research paves the way for environmental managers to become better gardeners of the forest, returning minerals from the sea to the ecosystems that need them and from which they originated.
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