Canada Wide Science Fair 2003

Study on cell phone distraction while driving helps Thompson teen Claire Pritchard sweep major cash awards

CALGARY, Alberta - (May 16, 2003) - Women in science got a major boost Friday at the Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF) as female students received all of the top prizes in each of the Fair's three age categories.

But 13-year-old Claire Pritchard, a Grade 7 student at Thompson's Ecole Riverside School walked away with $16,500 in cash awards in her first foray at a national science competition. She received the $5,000 EnCana Corporation Platinum Award for Junior age category and was then selected over her older peers as winner of the $10,000 EnCana Best-in-Fair award. The remaining $1,500 accompanied her Gold Medal finish in the junior Life Sciences Division. Claire also began her university tuition fund, with a $2,000 entrance scholarship to the University of Western Ontario.

West Vancouver's Clara Westell-Roper, Grade 12 student at Handsworth Secondary School also won the $5000 EnCana Platinum Award for tops in the senior category, for her work on better understanding p38MAPK (p38 mitogen-activated protein) in macrophage nitric oxide (NO) production. NO is involved in the pathogenesis and control of numerous infectious diseases, tumours, autoimmune processes, and chronic degenerative diseases. She also won $1,500 to accompany her Gold Medal in senior Life Sciences category, plus another $2,500 in prizes and a $5,000 scholarship.

Jasmine Tait, Grade 10 student at Sir Robert Borden High School in Ottawa, won the $5,000 EnCana Award for the Intermediate category. Her work involved an innovative bio-mechanical design of an ergonomic pen for hand-disabled people. Her design would be helpful for people with Essential Tremor, the most prevalent movement disorder affecting about 10 million people in the United States and as much as 10 percent of the entire population over age 65. Jasmine won $2,200 in additional monies, including $1,500 to accompany her Gold Medal in the Intermediate Engineering category.

Best-in-Fair winner Claire Pritchard first tackled the relational hazards of cell phones and driving during her Grade Six local school fair last year.

"This year, I wondered if the increased risk for motor vehicle accidents among cell phone users could be partially explained by slow reaction times. I know that intoxicated individuals are legally prohibited from driving, so I set out to establish and compare the effects of cell phone distraction versus alcohol intoxication on reaction time," explained Claire.

Judges were clearly impressed with Claire's application of scientific methods of hypothesis, research, evaluation and conclusions. Her fully defensible research processes led Claire to the following observations:

Cell phone use slowed hand-eye co-ordination scores by 20% and reaction time scores by 48%. Published research revealed that the reaction time of intoxicated subjects with a blood alcohol of .15 mg of alcohol / 100 ml of blood was only slowed by 18%

  • Gaps in concentration were defined as scores of twice the average reaction time length
      
  • Age and gender sub-group comparisons revealed that the group most significantly affected by cell phone distraction were adult females, who showed the greatest number of gaps, and the greatest slowing of reaction time and hand-eye co-ordination scores.
      
  • surveys of the study participants showed that 45% owned cell phones; 49% used their phones while driving; 96% believed cell phone use while driving was dangerous, and 73% of all subjects believed that there should be a law prohibiting this practice.
      

"Somewhat to my surprise, reaction times are slowed much more significantly with cell phone use than with alcohol intoxication," said Claire. "Interestingly, the vast majority of test subjects recognized the risk of cell phone use while driving and supported the legislation prohibition of the practice. Despite this, only one province in Canada (Newfoundland/Labrador) has enacted such a law," concluded Ms. Pritchard.

There were more than 360 projects, involving 466 students and 350 judges in the national CWSF -- the culmination of science fairs that attracted more than 500,000 students across the country.

Further information on EnCana Corporation is available on the company's Web site, www.encana.com.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

R. H. (Dick) Wilson
Vice-President, Public Affairs
EnCana Corporation (www.encana.com)
(403) 645-4777   Cell: 403.860.3850   email: dick.wilson@encana.com

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