Looking around at fellow science-focused teens in Taiwan, Natasha Burgert noticed she was a minority.
And it wasn’t because the 17-year-old student is a strawberry-blonde Caucasian who calls South Surrey home.
Skin colour, language, clothing choices, etc. – none of that stood out for her in the crowd of students who had travelled from all corners of the world to participate in the Taiwan International Science Fair.
No – it was her gender. Among more than 200 students, Burgert was one of relatively few females on the competition floor.
“I wondered why that was,” she told Peace Arch News last Wednesday, two days after returning from the event with a bronze medal in her hand.
“A lot of girls I know are almost afraid to show their difference in thinking and pursue these innovations. I think it’s more encouraged for guys,” Burgert said.
“I think that’s pretty crazy. I’ve never really cared about… conform(ing) to the mainstream.”
Burgert, who is in Grade 12 at Semiahmoo Secondary, won third in the fair’s Environmental Engineering category for her designs on sustainable transportation.
In short, a solar-powered trike she designed to operate continuously during sunny, daylight hours struck a chord on the world stage. She first showcased the trike to Peace Arch News a year ago, stating at the time that she “wanted to raise awareness and show people the power and the potential that renewable energy has.”
The story drew interest from a Chinese businessman, who commented on PAN’s online article that her idea was “really a good inspiring one” that led to development of the ‘Surrey bike with Solar Panel’ – described on the company’s website as “an eco friendly, zero emission, pollution free quadricycle.”
Burgert said last week that “there’s really nothing more I could ask for” than knowing her idea inspired others.
She said she was invited to apply to compete in Taiwan after twice qualifying for the Canada-wide Science Fair.
But “I wasn’t really expecting to get in,” she said of the international event, explaining that a bronze medal at the national fair “meant there were other projects more qualified.”
Learning in January that she had indeed made the grade – as one of approximately 40 overseas and another 250 domestic students – to compete in Taiwan was “really quite exciting for me.”
Once there, Burgert found herself up against about 20 other students in her category, which was ultimately won by New Zealand’s Cian Hinton. The teen told Burgert he’d been working on his project – described online as an “Alternating Rotational Conversion Generator” – for five years, she noted, in awe.
Meeting other students who “poured so much time and energy” into their entries was among many highlights of the nine-day trip for Burgert.
She described the competition itself as friendly and motivational, and said she enjoyed being surrounded by students who hail from around the world, but share a common mindset.
“We think differently, have different ideas, but the idea of being different and having those innovations is really what we all share,” Burgert said.
“Maybe people expect to be treated differently. When you get there, we’re all just a bunch of science nerds. We’re all just passionate about delving into our curiosities. It doesn’t matter what nationality we are, what gender we are, because we care about things a lot less superficial than the colour of your skin.”
The fact she came home with a medal was simply icing on the cake.
“Usually at awards ceremonies, I’m pretty stressed out,” she said. “At this one, I was just so happy to be in Taiwan, meeting all these people from around the world… that I honestly did not care if I placed or not. So when they called my name, it was just, oh.
“I really felt more proud to be representing, not only Semiahmoo Secondary, but B.C. and Canada. It feels good to represent my country.”
She offered some advice for those unsure about pursuing their passions.
“(I) really encourage people to not care that it’s not a cool thing to do,” she said. “In order to ever achieve these, get these awards, these opportunities, you really have to take these risks.”
Burgert was one of two students representing Canada at the Taiwan fair, held Jan. 27 to Feb. 2. The second, Nicolas Fedrigo from Saanich, earned top spot in the Engineering category.
Looking ahead, Burgert hopes to help judge entries in the upcoming South Fraser Regional Science Fair, set for April 4-5 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Surrey campus.