JOHANNESBURG - Young South African scientist Zara Nijzink-Laurie took home the second prize in the behavioural and social sciences category at the prestigious Taiwan International Science Fair recently.
“My project investigates the awareness of the menstrual cup and barriers to using it among schoolgirls. Although menstrual cups are cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than pads or tampons, they are not widely known or used,” Nijzink-Laurie said.
The Taiwan International Science Fair is an annual event in which learners from over 23 countries and territories participate in the competitive science fair as well as a cultural tour of Taipei.
The science fair took place from 28 January to 2 February in Taipei and Nijzink-Laurie, a Grade 8 learner from Rustenburg High School in Cape Town, came second in the highly specialised category.
Nijzink-Laurie was selected to go to Taiwan thanks to her impressive research into the barriers to the use of the menstrual cup among schoolgirls. Nijzink-Laurie was motivated to look at this issue when she heard estimates that two million young women miss several days of school each month due to a lack of access to sanitary products.
Her project involved conducting research among young girls in grades 8 and 11 at a local school. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire before and after watching a video about the menstrual cup.
Nijzink-Laurie's research showed that 54% of the younger girls and 92% of the older girls had heard of the cup but in each group only one girl had used it. About 11% of younger girls and 40% of older girls would consider using the cup.
Her research found that there were a range of barriers to using the cup and to address these issues required more than just dissemination of information. Small workshops would help to shift behaviour she found.
Nijzink-Laurie was delighted with her performance in Taiwan and the experience of presenting at an international fair of this stature. She was also excited that a topic so close to her heart has gained recognition from such prestigious quarters she added.
Also competing at the fair was Kalsee Nadasen, a fellow South African from Hatfield Christian School in Gauteng. The pair were selected to represent South Africa thanks to the outstanding projects that they presented at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists International Science Fair in October 2017.
“We are very proud that Zara took home a silver medal at the Taiwan International Science Fair. The Eskom Expo is all about encouraging and motivating young people to pursue careers in the sciences, and we really hope this recognition at an international level spurs her on to develop her research further. We need more research into an issue like this and we hope that Zara will one day be able to implement the interventions necessary to shift behaviour among schoolgirls,” said Parthy Chetty, executive director of the Eskom Expo.
Nijzink-Laurie and Nadasen were selected from among 600 of South Africa’s future engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and innovators at the Eskom Expo, the country’s largest school-level science fair, for a chance to take home prizes worth more than R4 million.
Pieter Pretorius, chairman of the board of directors of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, said: “Competing at an international science fair is always an exciting and challenging experience that offers great learning opportunities. To succeed at an international level, among such stiff competition is a major achievement and a testament to the value of Zara’s research, and we hope that this is just the beginning of a long career in the sciences for Zara.”