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Does winning an US competition sound impossible?

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

We want to present a group of successful students from the Grammar school of Ján Adam Rayman in Prešov, two girls who went from a local competition to win a scholarship to an American school – Rochester Institute of Technology. Laura Kleinová and Natália Ivanecká chose to work on a project about ticks. They invented a repellent from a coconut eccentric oil, which secured them a gold medal at the Genius Olympiad. Are you interested? Read more!

Hi, First of all, we would like to ask how old are you and when you started to work on this project?

We are both 18, currently starting the last year at our school. We started the project about a year ago when we were in the third grade.

What was the purpose of even starting your work? Was it for a SOČ (Secondary Professional Activity) perchance?

No, we didn’t find it that appealing, we applied directly for a competition called Festival Vedy a Techniky (Festival of Science and Technology).

And who told you about it?

Our physics teacher encouraged us, she mentioned it so many times that we just had to go. Another thing that we liked about this particular competition was the feedback we received from the jury after each round. It helped us improve our poster and presentation which was required.

So can you please explain the entire process of the contest you went through?

Well at first we went to the festival to get inspired and we ended up at a public lecture held by Professor Peťko, who has been studying ticks for 30 years. He proposed the idea of our collaboration and that’s when we decided it was worth trying.

Has your school provided you with the equipment and testing products?

No, we had to travel weekly to Košice, where the professor had his lab with everything necessary. This was perfect since he already had a few samples from his own work. We used all kinds of shampoos, shower gels, and perfumes and tested how effective they worked as a repellent. Afterward, we took specific eccentric ingredients that seemed to work and ran some more tests. That is how we came to the coconut eccentric oil.

So what technique did you use for testing the ticks?

We had a meter square white sheet that we dragged through the grass. Ticks can sense the trace of carbon dioxide exhaled by their prey and are known for lurking in the grass. In the beginning, we managed to catch about six ticks during a three-hour period.

We read that you even tasted some products on your bare hands, is that true? Wasn’t it dangerous?

Yes, we divided our results into two categories, one where the product has been spread or dissolved on the fabric and the second where the ticks reacted directly on our skin. As Professor Peťko assured us, these little insects need a safer and warmer space for them to burrow into the skin, not the exposed environment of our hands.

And after all of this, how did you get to the main competition in America?

We won the regional round and then the national one, where we got the Dean’s Prize which secured us a place at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Comenius University. The committee of the festival has the power to pass forward the winners to the Genius Olympiad. That’s when we wrote a 15-page long document about our work and registered our project. The database connected our previous victory from the national round and we received an email that we are in. It was lucky because they chose around 700 groups from 1400.

How did you manage all of this, financially speaking?

The products we used were mostly from our houses or cosmetic stores, but yes we had to use our own money. As for the flight tickets, we asked for a grant from Tatra Banka, which is directed towards students going abroad and projects like ours. And we were also under the wing of Amavet, the organizer of the Festival Vedy a Techniky so some things were covered by them.

And were you successful?

Yes, we won the gold medal and with it a scholarship for the Rochester Institute of Technology, the school where the competition was held. The campus was massive and it had many faculties which to choose from – concerning medicine, science, and of course technology. All of the finalists got at least a partial scholarship, but the amount rose with the success.

Finally, what are your plans for the future? Do you plan to advance with your project?

We would like to work on the consistency of the cream, to make it more smooth. The best outcome would be to get the repellent on the market, probably to create an online shop. As for the scholarship, we are still undecided about our choice of university so we will see.

Thank you Natália and Laura for being able to hear your story firsthand, and we hope many more young people will get inspired and take their chance.


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