Scent of Success

Sometimes it only takes a simple project, a chance meeting, or maybe, running into an unknown word to ignite an interest that may guide a student into the future. With a kilo of cooked adlai, molasses and molds and a passion for research, a young student shows that a grade seven is not too young to become a scientist.

When it comes to being scientist, 11 isn't too young. Just ask Nicolle Laarni Sasana, a 7th grade student at Manila Science High School. With several science fair projects already behind her, Nicolle is considered as one of the youngest scientists in the country.

As a student, Nicole was active in school organizations and competitions, “Even before 3rd grade, I join contests in researches and science fairs,” says Nicole.

This bright young scientist has a string of awards. Aside from the honors she received from the school, she won several contests such as the Science Quest 2013, 3rd Runner-up in 2014 and 1st Runner-up in 2015 in the country. Recently, she hailed as gold medalist in the Malaysia Technology Exhibition (MTE) 2016 held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Preface: The School Science Fair

In her 5th grade at Holy Infant Academy in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro, Nicolle channeled her new interest into their school investigatory project.

They were grouped to conduct a research project. At first, she and her group had minimal idea on what project they will formulate. Everything was yet to start when she and her mother happened to meet Mr. Pat Andrew Barrientos, ATI MiMaRoPa Center Director, by chance.

"I actually know Sir Bong and when we meet him by chance, I approached him about Nicolle’s project. Then he offered his help to us. He told us to go to ATI in Barcenaga and see what he can do," Ms. Ruth Jane Sasana, mother of Nicolle narrated.

A Journey Just Begun

On June 2014, Nicolle and her mother headed to ATI in Barcenaga to ask for some technology that can be the subject of their research project. Mr. Barrientos let them choose among the concoctions namely fermented fruit juice, fermented mangosteen and Indigenous Microorganism (IMO) and endorsed them to Mr. Ruben P. Jugno, then Focal Person of Organic Agriculture (OA). For their research project, Mr. Jugno suggested the use of IMO. But instead of using rice as the base ingredient of the concoction, Mr. Mark Joseph Buñag, then Technical Assistant of Organic Agriculture Section suggested to use Adlai as substitute for rice. “At first, I am not familiar with Adlai. In fact, it was my first time to hear it. However, when I saw what it looks like, it’s like the seed that we played when we were young,” Nicolle shared.
“According to my research, Adlai also called Job’s Tears (Coix lacryma-jobi L.) is as versatile as rice when it comes to food source, thus, promoting it as substitute staple food,” she added.

It was Sunday of June, 2014 when they again went to ATI for the procedure of the concoction. With the help of Mr. Jay-Ar Madriaga, then Technical Assistant of OA, they started to prepare the IMO using Adlai as main ingredient. For the procedure, they cooked one (1) kilo of adlai (same as with the process on rice). Then, they put it into bamboo pole and covered it with plastic to avoid the cooked adlai in becoming wet. After plastering the bamboo, they placed it under the tree for three (3) days. When they opened the bamboo poles, white colored molds were formed from the cooked adlai.
Afterwhich, they weighed the recovered molds and then, added the molasses in equal weight. Its mixture was put in the plastic container and they covered it with manila paper. One week after its fermentation, they drained the liquid from the mixture and filtered. At last, the IMO is ready to use. Just mix 2 tbsp. of IMO to 1 liter of clean water.
Using the simple concoction as a starting point, Nicolle and her group entitled their experiment as "Effectiveness of Adlai (Ciox Lacryma – Jobi) Indigenous Microorganism Concoction Deodorizer for Animal Droppings".

“In my Uncle’s house in Bansud, there was a piggery, which has stinky smell,” she said. Inspired by the challenge of getting rid of the stinky smell, Nicole crafted her experiment for her investigatory project. “I spray a little amount of IMO in my Uncle’s Piggery and a minute or two, bingo! the skunk odor was gone”, she remembered.

Her background research on IMO gave her strong sense of what she thought would happen but it’s not as effective as she first thought. After that, she and her group set up their hypothesis about their study. She even tried the concoction to the other animal droppings such as cats, dogs and poultry.

With her study of effectiveness of Adlai as IMO deodorizer for Animal Droppings, Nicolle and her group won the school’s science fair and moved on to both the regional and national science quests. Their study on IMO was the sole entry of MiMaRoPa and won second in the 8th National Science Quest in Pasig City.

On 2015, Nicolle pursued his 7th Grade at Manila Science High School. She said that during that year, she was a bit shy because it’s a new environment for her. Then, on one of her research subject, their professor told them to conduct a research on Research Biology. What Nicolle did was she enhanced their study on IMO and conducted further research. As suggested by her teachers, she was advised to have a laboratory analysis regarding the chemical components of IMO as deodorizer.

Chemical Analysis of IMO using Adlai

According to her study, the IMO using Adlai as main ingredient possessed two chemical contents namely tannins and alkaloids. These two chemical components eliminate the bad odor and neutralize its scent.

Her study also became an entry in the Regional Invention Competition and Exhibit (RICE) held at the Technological Institute of the Philippines, Manila. It was an event participated by various schools in National Capital Region. But unfortunately, she did not move on to the championship.

Life went on with Nicolle. She did her usual routine as a student. But one day, their school received an invitation for the Invention and Innovation Awards Junior Category in the Malaysia Technology Exhibition (MTE) 2016 which will be held in Kuala Lumpur on February 18 – 20, 2016. This international competition was only given to selected schools in the country.

MTE brings recognition to the best inventions, designs and innovations. On this event, more than 500 exhibits of platform inventions and innovations were displayed to a targeted audience of trade visitors, connecting inventors and innovations to investors, manufacturers and distributors to aid commercialization.

In response, their teachers submitted research studies of students from Manila Science High School. These research studies were screened by the committee of Invention and Innovation Awards. Among those studies, only 15 were selected for the event. Luckily, Nicolle’s research was one of those.

According to Nicolle, it was her first time to compete internationally. When asked how they got to Malaysia, she shared, “Our competition to Malaysia is not easy. Since Manila Science High School is a public school, all the expenses for the contest were shouldered by us. So, my mother and I have to look for assistance to sponsor my travel to Malaysia. We knocked on our friends and relatives’ hearts to ask for support.”

“Fortunately, we got more than what we need, financially. We also shared our blessings to others who are still financially deficit.”

One of the Youngest Scientists

Nicolle and her co-participants from the Philippines arrived a day before the competition. They just roamed around the venue and studied their research for the tomorrow’s “defense”.

On the day of the competition, she said that she was a bit nervous knowing that the participants came from the developed countries such as Croatia, Malaysia, India, China, Japan and some came from Oxford. But it did not hinder her to compose herself and showed what she’s got.

“We have our booth wherein our posters were posted and the judges were roaming around to every participant to ask about our studies,” she narrated. “Although nervous, but I really studied my research and when they asked me about my study, I was able to answer them all.”

Nicolle’s enthusiasm about her research paid off with a gold medal in the Innovation and Invention Awards 2016. She is also considered as one of the youngest winners in the competition. Her research was also featured in Mr. Bugs Tan’s blog (uncle-bugs.blogspot.com), one of most prolific inventors in Malaysia.

As sign of appreciation, her mother called Mr. Barrientos to tell Nicolle’s achievement regarding her research study. They also personally met him to extend their gratitude to ATI Family for the technology they shared. Mr. Barrientos said that all stakeholders including students are welcome to ATI, be it for science and technology, research or extension services.

For Nicolle, imagination and exploration are the limits, and she has plenty of questions to keep her busy. "There are a lot of great ideas out there, and everyone can make innovative inventions that can be found in the middle of our backyards,” Nicole expressed.