African violet enthusiast cultivates science excellence

A teenaged reservist from Spruce View is winning awards for the grow-op she has set up in the basement of her rural home.

Jennifer Smith

A teenaged reservist from Spruce View is winning awards for the grow-op she has set up in the basement of her rural home.

In a small room, completely sealed in plastic, Jennifer Smith, 17, has set up timers, lights and space heaters to nurture no less than 300 African violets cloned from her mother’s plants.

Three years in the making, the indoor garden is the focal point of a genetics project that earned Best of Fair and numerous other awards at the 2009 Central Alberta Regional Science Fair, held last weekend in Red Deer.

Smith’s experiment is no flash in the pan.

“My project was a three-year commitment, and it was about chimera genetic anomaly in African violets.”

It started when she was in Grade 10 and looking about for a science fair project. Her gaze settled on her mother Cathy Smith’s collection of house plants.

Chimera produces pinwheels and other colour variations in the flowers of African violets.

Smith, now in Grade 12 at Spruce View School, wanted to show that clones taken from leaves would actually look different from clones taken from the flowers of the same plants.

Using a chemical formula that includes specific hormones, she cultured more than 300 plantlets from genetic material scraped off of 12 parent plants.

It worked.

Smith’s first presentation, defining the colours of African violets, won three awards in the 2007 Science Fair, including the Bronze, the Star and the Genome award — offered exclusively to projects that deal with genetics.

She went on in 2008 to present the Silver Award winner, titled Cloning Violets, which got her to national finals in Ottawa and an honourable mention there.

This year, the final stage of her project earned the Gold Medal, the Genome Award, a special award from the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and Best of Fair.

Her latest round of prizes include cash awards, tuition for her first year of studies at Red Deer College and trip to Winnipeg for the national finals.

So some people might assume that Smith — a reservist with the Red Deer-based 749 Communications Squadron — is pursuing a career in horticulture. They would be wrong.

With a hearty laugh, Smith says she’s taking psychology. And while she’s at it, she has applied for a full-time career in the Canadian Forces.

Smith is among six students from Chinook’s Edge School Division who will join Team Alberta for the national championships in Winnipeg.

The others are: Timmy Carlielle-Shaw and Collin Fair from Olds High School, Dustin Christiansen from Spruce View School and Terry Kramer and Shae Thompson from Innisfail High School.

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