By Anga-Anganda Bushwana
A 15-year-old Kingswood College Grade Nine learner, Savanna Renaud, has won Gold at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists in the Makhanda Regional finals, with a thrilling project that studies neurochemistry in mice to benefit children with autism.
Renaud, just 15 years old, won a bursary to Rhodes University and says she knows that her future is now secured.
“I remember calling my father first and his reaction was the best. He asked to take a photo of my certificate and he sent it everywhere. Now I am bombarded with thousands of congratulations messages from family members I didn’t even know I had,” Renaud told Grocott’s Mail.
“My bursary is probably the most incredible thing I have ever received. It allows me to pursue my lifetime dream of becoming a vet,” Renaud said. She added that she has known since Grade Zero that she wanted to become a vet as she has always loved working with animals and is extremely intrigued by the sciences.
Her study of neurochemistry in mice aimed to see how they responded to different kinds of music, something she hopes will be useful for children with autism. “I wanted to test mice’s reaction to certain situations to track their responses and my way of doing this was putting them in a maze to expose them to different music genres. Each pair of mice had a genre assigned to them, namely, Jazz, Lofi, Classical, Pop, and a control group,” said Renaud.
She found that the mice reacted differently to different types of music. “By studying their neurochemistry, you could see they were calmer and responded better to their surrounding,” added Renaud.
The innovative 15-year-old is hoping to use her findings to uncover external influences that can help children with learning disabilities (mainly autism).
“When I was first properly exposed to the Expo, I researched it a bit and found just how much of an opportunity it held. I saw that scholarships to Rhodes could be earned and that was the moment it clicked. All I could think was “That’s it. I want that.” And so it began.” Savanna added.
She is now hoping to take the project further and work on it until it can be put into practice because anyone can make a good presentation of their ideas, but those ideas need to be able to change the world, she said.
Other than science, Savanna enjoys the outdoors. On weekends you are likely to find her hiking, cycling, and rock climbing. I would describe her as an incredible teenager who has an eye for adventure.
“I think my biggest thing is that you won’t get anywhere if you don’t put in the time. I put about 400 hours into this project. Without sleepless nights and stressful days, this project would not have happened” said the young and ambitious woman.