A Northside High School student’s science project earned him not only the title of senior grand champion, but also an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in Fort Valley State University’s Food Engineering Laboratory.
Ishaan Vyas learned firsthand the benefits of using pulsed ultraviolet (UV) light for food safety. This innovative technology kills harmful bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli). The 16-year-old junior focused his research on analyzing whether this unique method affects the color of meat. He recently presented the results of his project, “The Effect of Pulsed UV-light on the Color of Chicken, Beef and Pork,” in the virtual Houston Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, so people are worried about food safety more than ever before,” Vyas said. “I also felt like this project would be beneficial for me to use toward more research.”
The young scientist conducted his research on FVSU’s campus with assistance and mentorship from Dr. Ajit Mahapatra, associate professor of food engineering, and Hema Degala, research assistant in food safety. Already familiar with Mahapatra’s work, Vyas contacted him and asked to work in his laboratory. As an eighth grader, he worked with the FVSU researcher on a similar project.
“I want to thank Dr. Mahapatra and Ms. Degala for being my mentors in the lab. They guided me through all my research,” Vyas said. “I have always been interested in science. Fort Valley was the perfect place to work on my project because they had exactly what I was looking for research wise.”
Vyas worked in the Food Engineering Laboratory for about three weeks after school and throughout his holiday break in November 2020. He used pulsed UV light on chicken, beef and pork samples to examine the possibility of any color change to the meat.
“We found there was not much color change after 24 hours, which is what we were hoping for,” he said, explaining a fresh surface color is more appealing to consumers. “The results were effective in not changing the color but effective in killing the bacteria.”
Winning the senior grand prize for his research, Vyas will also participate in the 2021 International Science and Engineering Fair as a state representative. “It was something that I thought would never happen,” he said, admitting that he was blown away by this opportunity. “To get this honor is a huge benefit.”
In addition to these accolades, he took home the Inspiring Excellence Award, the MERC Award, the Mu Alpha Theta Award, the Office of Naval Research Award and the BROADCOM Award. For his eighth-grade project on pulsed UV light, he also won the senior grand prize.
Appreciative of his awards, Vyas said that is not the reason he did the research. For him, the learning experience he gained working with Mahapatra and Degala was more valuable than any prize.
“This research could have a meaningful impact on everyone,” he noted, adding that pulsed UV light could be used in disinfecting surfaces as well. “I’m happy that I was able to present my findings to the science world.”
Mahapatra commended Vyas for his research efforts and the opportunity to have him work in his lab.
“Ishaan was interested in some real-life research experience and mentoring him was worthwhile,” Mahapatra said. “The major benefit of having him in my lab was that we could generate some publication quality data.”
The Northside Eagle plans to continue his research over the summer. Although he is not sure where he wants to attend college in the future, he desires to pursue a science career and help people through research.
“I’m hoping that working in the lab will help me discover a future career I may be interested in,” Vyas said.