Science fair phenom takes 1st place at national competition

In most ways, Bhavya Mohan is like any other 16-year-old high school kid.

He likes to spend time with friends. He plays guitar and basketball. Except when he isn't doing those things, he's winning science fairs and making breakthrough discoveries in cancer research.

Last week, the Grade 10 student at Colonel By Secondary School won first place in the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF), held at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

He was able to find a natural way to use peptide molecules, or aptamers, to aid in immunotherapy. He hopes his discovery will lead to less expensive immunotherapy treatment with fewer major side effects.

"It's the best from all over Canada, and it was just mind-boggling to me, just actually winning," Mohan told CBC News.

Mohan has been taking his science seriously for years, having begun his research in Grade 5 at a Carleton University lab with the mentorship of some of the university's professors.

He has also been making a habit of winning science fairs. Two years ago, Mohan won national honours for an inexpensive DNA measurement tool that can help detect certain diseases.

This year's project, Mohan said, is an extension of the research he's already been doing on cancer care.

Stephen MacGillivray Photography & Video

"I've known quite a few cancer patients who've actually undergone many treatments. So I knew there was just a need for something to be done. So I wanted to go into that field," said Mohan.

"Whenever I see there's an issue, whenever I see there's a need for something, I always try to think of an innovative way by which I can solve those concerns."

Off to Bulgaria

According to organizers, this year's national science fair featured 465 projects from students representing every province and territory, including 34 from First Nations, Métis or Inuit communities.

"The event is a sight to behold," said Reni Barlow, executive director of the organization that runs the CWSF.

"Not because of any fancy frills, but because of the talent, passion and ingenuity of Canadian students. Outside of congratulating them, all we can do is encourage them to continue developing their sense of exploration and striving for solutions that lead to positive change in our world."

The fair's finalists, made up of students from Grades 7 to 12, competed for nearly $1 million in cash awards, scholarships and other prestigious opportunities.

Mohan will go on to represent Canada at the European Union Contest For Young Scientists in Sofia, Bulgaria this fall.