Portuguese students win European Competition for Young Scientists

Project that proposes to regenerate bone tissue through the use of spider webs was also distinguished with the XFEL Special Prize

The first prize of the EUCYS – EU Contest for Young Scientists, organized by the European Commission, comes to Portugal.

Afonso Nunes, Inês Cerqueira, and Mário Onofre, students at Colégio Luso-Francês and winners of the National Competition for Young Scientists in 2023, today took first place on the podium with the SPIDER-BACH2 project. In addition to the 7500 euros for this first prize, the students were also awarded the XFEL Special Prize. This guarantees access to a one-week experience at the European XFEL – European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser Facility, in Hamburg.

Coordinated by professor Rita Rocha, the young scientists were chosen to represent Portugal in Brussels with victory in the 2023 National Competition for Young Scientists, organized by the Youth Foundation, with an innovative project in the field of engineering (bioengineering).

SPIDER-BACH 2 is based on the proposal for the simultaneous production of recombinant spider web silk with a bioactive peptide that has been shown to have regenerative properties for bone tissue. The project also identified the capacity to produce green hydrogen as a by-product of the use of marine bacteria (capable of carrying out metabolic activity in aerobic and anaerobic conditions). The final product could have applications in mitigating osteoporosis, by enabling the in vitro production of osteoblasts, cells responsible for the organic synthesis of bone matter.

In this 34th edition of EUCYS, organized annually by the European Commission and whose national representation is the responsibility of the Youth Foundation, 85 projects were submitted to the competition in various areas of knowledge. During these days, The Square, in Brussels, welcomed more than 130 young scientists, aged between 14 and 20, from 36 countries.

In addition to SPIDER-BACH2, the Youth Foundation also led the SYRENITY project, a study that aims to produce a cream rich in collagen – a protein with structural and moisturizing properties – using by-products resulting from the fishing industry, such as fish scales and fins. fish, presented by Joana Monteiro, João Henriques, and Margarida Leite, students from Colégio Valsassina, coordinated by professor João Gomes

It is worth remembering that, through the representation provided by the Youth Foundation – as organizer of the National Competition for Young Scientists –, the Portuguese delegations sent to EUCYS have frequently achieved distinctions. For example, in the 2022 edition, in Leiden, Madeiran students Joaquim Sousa Dória and José Tiago Fernandes Vieira won in the bio-economy category, and in 2021, the Joint Research Center special prize was won by Porto student Klára Varga, Sara Couto and João Oak.

Since 1992, the Youth Foundation has organized the National Competition for Young Scientists, one of the main science initiatives in Portugal. Aimed at young people between 15 and 20 years old, secondary and higher education students (in the first year) and young people (individually or in groups, up to 3 elements) with research projects, developed at school/university, the National Science Competition distinguishes the best and most promising projects presented. In addition to monetary prizes, the Youth Foundation selects projects to participate – with all expenses paid – in some of the main science fairs and competitions around the world – such as EUCYS, in Europe, CASTIC, in China, or others in Brazil, Mexico, or the USA. This project has the support of Ciência Viva, Porto City Council, and Porto Editora.

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