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Local students shine bright at national science fair

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Troy Shantz

Local seniors who are tech-savvy have experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression during the pandemic, a young student scientist from Sarnia has found.

Kiran Prasad spent 10 months studying the mental health of seniors and found those handy with technology and social media became more depressed than those who aren’t online.

Kiran Prasad

His project earned a bronze medal at the recent Canada Wide Science Fair in the Grades 11-12 category.

“I thought (it) might be because they just are simply too exposed to the media and what’s going on with all the bad news with COVID-19, and that may be causing them to be anxious and depressed,” said the 17-year-old St. Patrick’s High School student.

Pasad was one of three local students who won big at the national event. It was held virtually May 17-21 with 51,000 visitors attending, making it the largest online STEM event in Canadian history.

Annabelle Rayson took silver in the intermediate (Grade 10-11) category with a study on controlling algae blooms through the biomanipulation of zooplankton.

And Krish Modi won Intermediate silver for his project on a testing method for blood clots.

“Once again, Lambton County students have proved themselves the equals of students from the big cities” said organizing committee chair Stephanie Lobsinger.

“Every year, Lambton County students do well nationally, and this year was no exception.”

Pasad said the seniors in his study that had no exposure to social media or had help navigating it did not experience depression. One control group avoided it altogether, and one group avoided it for the first five months and received tech mentorship at the midway point.

“This is something that needs to be looked into further, and definitely is a step in the right direction for what we should be looking to help older adults in these times, he said.

Subjects filled out questionnaires, which he input into medical forms used to gauge levels of depression and anxiety.

Prasad, who helps seniors with technology by volunteering at with Cyber Seniors organization, said he hopes his findings can be used at long-term care and retirement homes.

“It’s such a big issue, especially now when older adults feel more anxious and depressed or higher at risk,” he said.

Prasad has a passion for assisting seniors. In 2019 he and his sister Kendra Prasad designed a robotic arm meant to help people with mobility and accessibility. It also went to the national science fair in New Brunswick.

“I really like helping people in general. I think it’s really great if you have something you know about and you’re passionate about,” said Prasad, who hopes to study computer science at university.

“That’s really something I enjoy doing.”

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