Published June 2, 2022
Diana Aga, director of the UB RENEW Institute, delivered the keynote speech at the International Student Science Fair (ISSF) on May 30. The event was held in Western New York, with the Lewiston-Porter Central School District hosting activities at Niagara University.
The theme at this year’s fair was global sustainability and environmental stewardship, something that Aga is familiar with, since her research focuses on environmental chemistry, including the occurrence, fate, transport and effects of environmental pollutants in the environment.
In her speech, Aga addressed the changing climate and the effects it is having on water quantity and quality, as well as the role that the younger generation has on protecting our water resources. The impacts of a warming world are felt through the disrupted weather patterns that lead to unpredictable water availability, especially during extreme events, she said.
Aga is the Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, in addition to leading the RENEW Institute. RENEW, which stands for “Research and Education in Energy, Environment and Water,” is a universitywide, multidisciplinary institute that serves as an intellectual hub for faculty engaged in those areas.
The ISSF is an opportunity for students from around the world to come together and share research through poster presentations and oral presentations. It combines culture, science and humanity in a weeklong experience.
Participants also get the opportunity to defend their work, which helps to deepen their understanding of the subject matter while also boosting their confidence.
After presenting, they have the chance to network, make friends, experience different cultures and sightsee, visiting the natural beauties that Western New York has to offer.
There was also a focus on teachers at this year’s fair, with opportunities for educators to participate in STEM leadership training.
Fourteen schools that are part of the International Student Science Network attended the fair, which is a smaller number than usual, as the pandemic and other considerations continue to restrict travel. The event included participants from Canada, Indonesia, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States, with students from Australia and Macau joining virtually.
Both Aga and Michelle Hinchliffe, chemistry teacher at Lewiston Porter High School, described Aga’s keynote speech as a full-circle moment.
They started working together in 2012, when Hinchliffe reached out to Aga regarding opportunities to expose high school students at Lewiston-Porter to hands-on experience in a research laboratory. Through a partnership with Aga’s lab, students took water samples from various sources, including water fountains in their schools, the Lewiston wastewater treatment plant and the Niagara River. Within these samples, they measured the amounts of pharmaceutical residues, which are present in surface water as a result of discharges from wastewater treatment plants.
“I have a passion to spread knowledge,” Aga says. She attributes this to the fact that her parents instilled the importance of an education in her at a very young age.
“The escalating challenge of water scarcity that is exacerbated by the rapidly changing climate and population growth is a grand challenge of global importance, which if we do not find sustainable solutions now, will be magnified in the future and will be felt greatly by the next generation,” Aga says. “It is therefore our responsibility as educators to communicate what we can do now to mitigate the impacts of climate change, increase the awareness of future generations, and help people understand and think about both the problems and the solutions.”
Aga also hopes to integrate the RENEW Institute in potentially hosting the ISSF in the Buffalo area again in the future.
Hinchliffe, one of the lead organizers of this year’s fair, believes it is important to showcase the relevance of science as early as possible.
She was excited to welcome visitors to Western New York. Activities were held virtually due to pandemic-related concerns in 2021, and Lewiston-Porter looked forward to hosting an in-person event, Hinchliffe says.
“When we all come together, it’s beautiful,” she says.