Ever wonder what they add to drinks like Gatorade to make them colorful and visually appealing?
14-year old Gary Zahn asked that question after a friend had an allergic reaction to the color “brilliant blue”. He eventually came up with a solution that recently earned him a $2500, second place award at a national science competition.
Zahn, a Logan High School freshman and avid scientist, spent about year looking at a more efficient way to produce a natural blue dye that can be used in lieu of toxic synthetic dyes.
“I just thought that since synthetic dyes are so harmful to human health and that natural dyes are so expensive,” Zahn said, “we needed an alternate way to produce dyes, like natural dyes, efficiently. So we used bacteria and we increased the yield by 28 percent.”
Zahn took his findings to Washington, DC and on October 23rd he placed second in the technology category in the Broadcom MASTERS, the nation’s premier STEM competition for middle school students. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
As one of 30 finalists, Zahn also competed in hands-on challenges that tested his abilities in critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. He said it was the best part of the competition.
“It was really fun,” according to Zahn. “You got to meet a lot of new people. We got to do activities, these really fun activities. They actually judged you mainly based on how well you performed the activities and how your thought process is, rather than your projects.”
Those challenges earned Zahn a second award, the Scott A. McGregor Leadership Award. He was selected by his peers based on his leadership abilities. As a result, he represented his class as a speaker at the awards ceremony.
So, what’s next for the teen scientific whiz? In addition to school, homework, practicing the piano and playing tennis, Zahn is researching how certain microbes benefit plants. He’s also looking forward to spending his $2500 prize on the STEM summer camp of his choice.