An apple a day...

An apple a day...

For more than 7 years, Julia has picked them, peeled them, and smashed them into a pulp. But not for the sake of cuisine. Not even a pie
May 2, 2002

She did it in the name of science.

Julia's fascination with apples first started around the time she was in Grade 2 at Glooscap Elementary School and living in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley—an area renowned for its abundant apple orchards. That's when she suspected that maybe—just maybe—nature's most popular fruit had more to it than met the eye. After all, if an apple a day keeps the doctor away, she could only imagine the extraordinary and mysterious powers lurking beneath the skin.

And so, a lifelong devotion to the science of apples had begun. Now, at the tender but wise age of 16, the devotion has earned the petite student big rewards and national recognition.

Deciding not to bite off more than she could chew, Julia's first journey into the world of apple science was a humble one. She decided to start by measuring the amount of juice contained in a 200-gram sample of six different varieties of apples. The goal? To see if one variety contained more juice than another. She found that McIntosh apples had the most juice. The smaller the apple, the more juice. The results were impressive enough to get her a place at the Regional Science Fair where the judge thought she had a future. He encouraged her to continue. She was off to a good start.

After that first success, Julia followed up with more apple-oriented investigation. The result? More recognition and awards. Her projects won her the Nova Scotia Apple Grower's Award, and "Best Project" at the Annapolis Valley Regional Science Fair.

By Grade 8, Julia's work had taken on a new twist. Her examination of how to prevent softness and bruising in Honeycrisp apples lead to the discovery that caught the attention of local growers: the apples should be stored at 3 degrees celcius. She earned a gold medal at the Canada Wide Fair 2000 in London, Ontario, and got a $2,000 scholarship at the University of Western Ontario. "I thought it was amazing because I was only in Grade 8," she says, "and I don't hear of a lot of people who get scholarships in Grade 8." Has the scholarship helped Julia figure out where her academic future lies? Nope she says. Still too early to decide.

Anyone interested in finding the reason for Julia's relentless obsession, wouldn't have to look too far for some clues. You could say that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

And in this case, the tree is her mother.

Armed with a teaching and chemistry degree, Heather Frenette one day decided to put her skills to work right at home to help school her child. By staying home, the mother believes she was able to provide the extra attention it took to stimulate her daughter's already-inquisitive mind. She remembers the first hints of Julia's "age of reason" shining through as early as age 5. "Julia has questioned how the world works for as long as either of us can remember," she says.

Heather also believes that the extra attention and nurturing helped to plant the seeds for Julia's apple obsession. It also might have given her daughter the extra edge she needed to make her mark in a world dominated by the grown-up researchers. By encouraging her to participate in science fairs and present her projects verbally to panels of judges, she believes she helped Julia develop her public-speaking skills and improve her self- esteem. And see that learning can be fun—and rewarding. Because of her hard work and extracurricular research, Julia has travelled, made new friends, and won prizes and scholarships.

Despite the gold medal and the successful projects, no scientist—amateur or professional—gets it right all the time.

Last year's project, "Does an Apple a Day Keep the Doctor Away?," was never completed. Julia wanted to know if apples lose some of their Vitamin C while they're in storage. After 5 months of smashing and sampling the pulp with exhaustive lab tests, she discovered her methods weren't precise enough to lead to solid conclusions. She cancelled the project, but hasn't accepted defeat. She vows to be back in the lab later this year.

For now, she's busy investigating a new lead: Whether it's possible to improve the quality of apples on a tree by controlling—and thinning out—the number of blossoms that are allowed to grow to maturity. And then determining the best way to do it. Traditionally, there have been two methods. Chemical thinning and labour-intensive, hand-thinning. Which produces a better apple? Julia's hot on the trail of an answer. Be at the next Annapolis Science Fair to find out.

So what does Julia dream of doing in the future?

She's hasn't quite figured that out. Beyond her scientific interests, Julia enjoys creative writing and has a talent for math. She also volunteers at the local hospital a few hours each week, and is a 10-year veteran of gymnastics class and enjoys kicking back at hip-hop classes.

But she still enjoys the world of apples and would like to one day come up with a new variety of apple. One that's red, crunchy, and still full of flavour many months after picking. And resilient enough to stay shiny and shrug off bruises. Just like Julia.

Apple lovers everywhere will wish her good luck.