Artash Nath

I am pleased that my year-long project: The Silence of Canadian Cities: Seismic Impact of COVID-19 Lockdowns won the Gold Medal at the 2021 Canada Wide Science Fair organized by the Youth Science Canada. It also won the Actuarial Foundation of Canada Award for the best project in Math, Database and Statistical analysis.

It was a long journey – one I started in May 2020 during pandemic lockdowns. COVID-19 lockdowns meant physical doors to schools were closed and presented new challenges to ongoing education. But curiosity remained free, and new windows to learning – learning fueled by curiosity and interest opened up. I made use of these new opportunities to turn them into a science project.

Project Origin

Once the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020, a domino effect was witnessed globally. One country after another declared some forms of lockdown – closing national borders, grounding air travel, road and rail traffic, closing non-essential workplaces, construction sites, schools and tourism. While the degrees of lockdown varied between countries, it was evident that lockdown became the go-to tool for most countries as they tried to figure other methods to stop human to human transmission of the virus.

Canada was no different. Within a week of the WHO declaration, Canada closed its border with the United States and all provinces and territories declared some forms of lockdown. The schools closed – the March break holidays were extended and when the schools reopened, the classed had turned virtual.

During this time, I came across an online hackathon: Transform 2020 organized by the Software Underground. It was a grassroots community that brought together scientists, engineers, students that love rocks and computers. As I enjoy computer programming their hackathon intrigued me. My knowledge on rocks was limited, but I still decided to participate in the hackathon as it was an opportunity for me to learn something new and get introduced to a new community. And I am glad that I did as it opened new portals of learning for me – one that introduced me to the subsurface world of seismology, big data and algorithms to process these big datasets.

The week-long Transform 2020 event was where I became curious to understand the impact of reduction in surface level human activities because of COVID-19 lockdowns on seismic vibrations. And this curiosity took me to an amazing journey of learning, exploration, research, long weeks of data analysis, Zoom calls, frustrations, successes, encouragement, presentations – all of which contributed to the final project: The Silence of Canadian Cities: Seismic Impact of COVID-19 Lockdowns.

Participating in Toronto Science Fair 2021 and Winning the Gold Medal

While undertaking a science project is a challenge by itself, entering that project into a science fairs is another project by itself as it requires extensive documentation, report-writing, filling scores of forms, submitting videos, creating presentation, practicing for interviews, and meeting all the deadlines while doing regular school.

I submitted the project at the 2021 Toronto Science Fair. There were hundreds of other projects submitted. My project won the Gold Medal and was selected to represent Team Toronto to the 2021 Canada Wide Science Fair. I also won the Matthew Shawn McConville Memorial Award, University of Toronto, Department of Earth Sciences for my project.

Representing Team Toronto at the 2021 Canada Wide Science Fair and Winning the Gold Medal

Winning the Gold Medal at the Toronto Science Fair was exciting and affirmed that all the hard work I did was of value. But it also meant preparing harder – as my project would now have to compete against the best of the projects selected from other regions in Canada. It meant new forms to be filled, new material and videos to be submitted, preparing for more series of interviews. But I was confident about my project as I worked hard on it, it was novel, was relevant to the COVID-19 lockdown period we are all experiencing, and the project findings would be useful for policymakers and health workers.

The competition was intense. There were almost 300 judges involved with the 2021 Canada Wide Science Fair. I had 5 interviews spread over two days with 14 judges at this stage. All the judges had fully read my project report, watched the project video and had gone through the supplementary material – as their questions were technical, fully tested my knowledge, the methodology I had used, my project findings and the limitations of my project.

I actually enjoyed the interview process as it was exciting to meet judges from different parts of Canada who were fully familiar with my project and were testing the robustness of my project methodology, findings and applications. It also helped me develop more confidence in how to handle a series of interviews, and how to present my work (balancing technical, topical information with more macro-level information) so that it fully answers the questions posed by judges.

In the end I was very pleased by the journey I took and was happy that I participated in the 2021 Science Fair. Winning the 2021 Canada-Wide Science Fair Gold Medal and the Special Award for my project would go a long way in pushing me to undertake other projects guided by my curiosity and interests.

Click for the complete list of Canada-Wide Science Fair award recipients and is also available at YouthScience.ca.

More details about my project: www.MonitorMyLockdown.com

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