Thursday, September 22, 2016

Science Fair Rock Star: Maria Vitória Valoto

This is the sixth in an ongoing series highlighting some of the amazing young women participating in the 2016 Google Science Fair. (Here are the first, second, third, fourth and fifth posts.) Each of these smart young scientists has survived both the rigorous first pass and the second regional round, and have been named Global Finalist, meaning they have moved into the final round of competition. You can be sure I'll be watching the celebration event on September 27, 2016.

Do you know someone who is lactose-intolerant? Sixteen-year-old Maria Vitória Valoto of Brazil does -- her father -- and he inspired her to find a way to help others with the same condition.

Dairy products, in particular milk, have long been used as an inexpensive source of calcium and protein, but a significant portion of the population cannot tolerate the lactose. For many this means they must forgo dairy, missing out on the the benefits altogether. Others may choose to purchase enzymatic capsules to take with dairy products, or to purchase substitute products that either have already had the lactose (and much of the nutrition) removed or are completely dairy-free, such as soy milk -- all of which can be quite expensive.

For her Google Science Fair project, Maria had the brilliant idea of making a reusable capsule containing the same enzymes in the over the counter pills and applying it directly to the carton of milk, creating a less expensive alternative for those who cannot afford to purchase special substitutes but who also cannot afford to miss out on this important source of nutrition. In her project, "Development of reusable capsules of beta-galactosidase intended for people who are lactose intolerant," for which she was named a Global Finalist, she asks whether it would be possible to develop a more economical, reusable product, capable of hydrolyzing lactose that would be practical for everyday use by a wide range of the world's population.

And, as you can probably guess, she was right! With a little trial and error, she was able to come up with a reusable sachet-type device with beta-galactosidase that can be added directly to the milk, can be used for up to a week, will work regardless of fat content, and is able to be stored at room temperature. And all this for a teeny fraction of the cost of special items!

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