An Ontario teenager who recently moved from Singapore to Canada won a national science award on Tuesday for her groundbreaking work on the anti-ageing properties of tree pulp, officials said.
Janelle Tam, 16, won the $US5000 (NZ$6359) award in the 2012 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada for showing that cellulose, the woody material found in trees that enables them to stand, also acts as a potent anti-oxidant.
"Her super anti-oxidant compound could one day help improve health and anti-aging products by neutralising more of the harmful free-radicals found in the body," Bioscience Education Canada said in a statement.
Tam's work involved tiny particles in the tree pulp known as nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC), which is flexible, durable, and also stronger than steel.
"NCC is non-toxic, stable, soluble in water and renewable, since it comes from trees," said Tam, a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute.
She chemically bound NCC to a well-known nano-particle called a buckminster fullerene, or buckyballs, which are already used in cosmetic and anti-aging products.
"The new NCC-buckyball combination acted like a 'nano-vacuum,' sucking up free radicals and neutralising them," said Bioscience Education Canada.
"The results were really exciting," Tam said in a statement, adding that since cellulose is already used as filler and stabiliser in many vitamin products, one day she hopes NCC will make those products into super-charged free radical neutralisers.
NCC may also be "superior to Vitamin C or E because it is more stable and its effectiveness won't diminish as quickly," Tam said.
Canada's national forest research institute, FPInnovations, has predicted a $250 million dollar market in the coming decade for NCC.
A pulp and paper mill that opened in January in Quebec now serves as the world's first large-scale NCC production plant.