Monika Lavan, of Zaman International School, inspects a bottle of biofuel in the Phnom Penh school’s laboratory on June 5.
Zaman International School student Monika Lavan, 17, has been interested in the sciences since she was 12. Last month her coconut bio-diesel project, which successfully created diesel fuel using coconut oil and methanol, earned her a
silver medal from the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project (I-SWEEEP) Olympiad in the US city of Houston, Texas. On returning home, she spoke to Post reporter Khouth Sophak Chakrya about her
project and the future of renewable energy.
How did you first join in the I-SWEEP competition?
One day, after the first-term final exams, I saw the I-SWEEEP announcement on the physics board, inviting students interested in becoming engineers to come to the city of Houston, Texas, in the US.
The announcement said that students who wanted to participate in the program had to send proposals about their projects to the I-SWEEP Committee ... in one of three main categories: energy, engineering, or environment.
I started to think about it and decided to choose renewable energy as my topic. I then started working hard on it, researching the scientific method involved in all the steps from collecting data to analyzing it. I sent my report and abstract to the I-SWEEEP Committee. One week later, my project was approved by the committee and I was invited to go to Houston at the end of April.
Tell us more about how you chose renewable energy as your project.
In fact, it was really difficult to find a good topic to submit to the committee, but one day my geology class was talking about energy and fossil fuels and I came up with the idea to focus my project on renewable energy. Fossil fuels are the biggest source of energy we use today and they will be depleted in our lifetimes. People around the world also face the environmental impact of fossil fuel emissions. They need alternative energy sources that are cleaner and renewable.
How long did you work on the project?
I spent over a month on it, from finding materials and chemicals needed for testing until I came up with an end result.
What happened in Houston?
I made a presentation on “How Coconut Bio-diesel Can Broaden Horizons for Cambodia” at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 3. The I-SWEEEP Committee was able to evaluate my project, and the six judges were very interested in the technical aspects of coconut bio-diesel during my presentation.
How many students were competing?
There were 820 students there from more than 50 countries around the world ... among Asian countries, Cambodia was the best, with the silver medal and a $1,000 prize. Vietnam and Thailand shared the bronze medal which had a prize of $500.
How did you feel when you won the silver medal?
I was really happy to hear the applause of the other students congratulating me. At first, I couldn’t believe my ears when the judges announced my name.
How do you think winning the medal will benefit you and your family?
It really encourages me to go on and it honors my family and me. I hope it also brings honor to Cambodia and to my school, the Zaman International School.
Did you travel anywhere else in the US while you were there?
After the awards were presented, I was so excited because the I-SWEEEP Committee took me and all the participants to the NASA Space Center in Houston, the Mission Control for the Apollo space program. It was really amazing, especially to see it with my own eyes.
What is your goal for the future?
My dream is to be an energy engineer. I have thought about becoming an engineer since I was 12 years old.