Chilean students win international award for Antarctic research

Two Chilean students received the International 2013 Stockholm Junior Water Prize for their work discovering natural biological solutions to oil spills.

Naomi Estay and Omayra Toro, two students at the  Liceo 1 of Santiago , were presented with the International 2013 Stockholm Junior Water Prize by the H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden last month for their ground-breaking work in Antarctica. The two girls, both just 17-years old, identified organisms living in the extreme environment capable of naturally cleaning up oil spills.

Their project took them to the white continent where they successfully identified a dozen bacterial strains that can, at very low temperatures, metabolize the dangerous contaminants that result from an oil spill.

“The knowledge developed has potentially widespread application. It shows how we can learn from natural processes to solve modern problems. Rather than utilizing potentially toxic chemicals for remediation, the project identified a natural approach based on locally available biological resources,” said the Jury from the international 2013 competition in Sweden said.

After spending years pursuing their passion and countless hours in their school’s laboratories, the pair finally realized their goal — conducting research in Antarctica. Their trip, a week long expedition in February, was part of their prize when they placed first at the  IX Antarctic IX School Fair, held in Magallanes last year.

“We are so happy and excited. We worked with this project for two years. Antarctica, the white
continent, has been a big inspiration to us in our work and now we want to continue our investigation,” Omayra Toro, one of the winners, said. “We also want to spread awareness about the effects of pollution in the world.”

Their hard work is not only paying off in terms of global recognition, but could have a real impact on the world as environmental issues continue to be a real threat.

“The increasing melting of the polar ice caps and our continued thirst for oil will unfortunately make this kind of clean up strategies even more relevant in the future. The project also made an incredibly inspiring story,” the Jury stated in its citation.

Estay and Toro’s research beat out projects from teams from 28 countries, all ages 15-20. In order to reach the finals, thousands of students around the world competed in national events focusing on local, regional, national or global topics relating to the environment and water.