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Alltech Young Scientist award winners hope to make ‘a world of difference’

Dr. Aoife Lyons (left), director of educational initiatives at Alltech, and Dr. Inge Russell (right), director of the Alltech Young Scientist program, present Rafal Bialek with his award as the undergraduate winner of the 10th annual Alltech Young Scientist program. Bialek is a student at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland.

[LEXINGTON, Ky.] – Two university students received awards in the 10th annual Alltech Young Scientist (AYS) program, the largest global contest of its kind that rewards scientific genius and experimental application in agri-science. Students were challenged to submit research studies that demonstrate a keen awareness of science and its applications for improving the future of the world, specifically through agriculture.

Xiaoqiu (Churchill) Wang, who attends Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, was the graduate winner. Rafal Bialek, a student at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, won the undergraduate division. Nearly 9,000 students from 62 countries had registered for the AYS this year.

Dr. Aoife Lyons, director of educational initiatives at Alltech, and Dr. Inge Russell, director of the AYS program, presented the awards in the famed Rupp Arena during the Alltech REBELation, an international conference exploring innovation, inspiration and world-changing ideas.

“Worldwide recognition of my current research keeps me inspired,” said Wang, adding that his long-term goal is to be an independent scientist “who makes a seminal discovery that makes a world of difference.”

The goal of his AYS research was to solve what he called “the long-time ignored and mysterious role of high levels of fructose during pregnancy.”

“Embryonic mortality is the major constraint to reproductive performance,” said Wang, noting that estimates of embryonic death loss are 20 to 40 percent in sheep, pigs and other ruminants. The long-range goal of his work is to increase pregnancy rates and final outcomes of pregnancy to improve reproductive performance of livestock.

Dr. Aoife Lyons (left), director of educational initiatives at Alltech, and Dr. Inge Russell (right), director of the Alltech Young Scientist program, present Xiaoqiu (Churchill) Wang with his award as the graduate winner of the 10th annual Alltech Young Scientist program. Wang is a student at Texas A&M University.

Bialek, the undergraduate winner, said, “I am very glad and proud of getting this award. It means that my work is worth something.”

His topic was using photosynthesis to make solar cells. He developed a method for attaching proteins extracted from purple bacteria to titanium dioxide, a widely used compound (for example, as a white dye in paints). Constructed cells, he said, can be utilized to convert solar energy into a current and can be used as a biosensor to detect environmental threats, such as herbicides in water.

Bialek, whose studies focus on molecular biophysics, selected the topic because he believes that connecting biology (photosynthesis) and physics (solar cells) will benefit science and help preserve the planet. After graduation, he plans to continue his work as a scientist, focusing on biophysical research in the field of photosynthesis.

A panel of agriculture industry leaders selected eight finalists from an initial field of nearly 9,000 registrants from 62 countries. The graduate winner received $10,000, and the undergraduate winner received $5,000. Alltech also recognized 46 regional and local award winners, who received up to $2,000 each.

Students were challenged to pursue solutions in animal health and nutrition, crop science, aquaculture, food science, algae, environmental science and other agri-science related areas. 

“This year we encouraged students to push the envelope and to ‘rebel’ in their search for solutions to today’s challenges,” said Dr. Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech. “Once again this group of students did not disappoint. We congratulate these winners for rising to the challenge and demonstrating their potential as scientific leaders.”

REBELation concludes Wednesday, with featured speakers University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari and Lisa Bodell, founder and CEO of futurethink and author of “Kill the Company.” Calipari will be presented with the Alltech Humanitarian Award.