Not every 19-year-old carries a business card reading “Inventor,” holds patents in cutting-edge technology, and lists the mayor as a good friend. Then again, Gina Gallant isn’t your average mall-hopping, Much Music-obsessed teenager.
Six years ago, Gina had a “eureka” moment while travelling in the car with her family in Cache Creek, B.C.—nicknamed “Trash Creek” because of the town’s teeming landfill site. It occurred to Gina that perhaps the waste materials overwhelming today’s landfills could be used to pave new roads.
Upon returning home to Prince George, B.C., Gina began researching enviro-friendly road-building techniques, and discovered that glass and rubber had been attempted with discouraging results. She had a hunch, however, that plastic, which consumes one-third of all landfill space worldwide, was just the right ingredient. “Plastic and asphalt are both hydrocarbon-based, so my theory was that a natural bonding would occur,” she explains.
Inventing a new paving material is an ambitious undertaking, but it’s just one of a handful of projects Gina has tackled over the years. Inspired by her father, a chemical technologist, and spurred by her own natural curiosity, Gina started inventing at a very young age. In Grade 5, she was prompted to develop a low-calorie substance that maintains a solid in a liquid base for 10 minutes because she wanted to prevent crackers from becoming soggy in her soup. Gina dubbed her secret formula, substance “G.” In 1998, Gina’s younger brother, Jordan, was hit by a car while riding his bike. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet—a life-saving decision that inspired Gina to invent headgear with light-emitting diodes that glow when the helmet is correctly positioned on a child’s head.
But Gina’s introduction to the world of scientific partnership would take place by converting discarded milk jugs into pavement. Although, Gina says, “people looked at me as if I was crazy at first,” she persistently peddled her idea to corporate Canada until it eventually paid off. In early 2002, she teamed up with Husky Oil, a petroleum company where her father works. There, she learned how to mix plastic with sand, granite, and liquid asphalt before arriving at an ideal blend. Called PolyAggreRoad, or PAR, the mixture is three percent plastic, six percent asphalt, and 91 percent aggregate.
Eager to apply PAR to a real-world situation, she pitched the idea of testing the mixture to Prince George Mayor, Colin Kinsley. “I thought it sounded like an innovative idea because we’re always faced with the challenge of cutting down our landfills,” he says. Mayor Kinsley designated a 500-metre stretch of Cranbrook Hill Road in Prince George as the test site.
Soon, Gina had a bevy of corporate partners pitching in. Ingenia Polymers of Calgary agreed to provide recycled plastic pellets; international company AMEC Earth and Environmental took samples to test PAR’s efficacy; and Columbia Bitulithic, a local paving company, built the patch of test road. Says John Cunningham, Columbia Bitulithic’s district manager in Prince George: “Gina is a strong young lady with a good head on her shoulders. We told her we’d help her with the physical work but she had to lead our people through the process. She stepped right up to the plate—we were quite impressed.”
Gina continues to receive widespread acclaim from the scientific community for her patented PAR, including a 2003 Central Interior Science Exhibition gold medal, a Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology award, and a third-place award in engineering at the 2003 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. But Gina’s real reward is knowing that three years later, her patch of pavement is holding up with no signs of wear and tear—proof that her road to scientific success is paved with ingenuity, persistence, and partnerships.
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