UVic student Paige Whitehead is busy in the lab developing an algae-based compostable glow-stick called Light Wand that she plans to market at festivals around the province over the summer. (Photo submitted)

UVic student aglow over new invention

Algae-based glow-stick will be marketed at festivals around the province

One University of Victoria student’s bright idea could soon be a regular feature at music festivals around the province.

Paige Whitehead is working on creating a non-toxic, compostable glow-stick.

“After going to festivals and seeing glow-sticks all over the ground, I started to do some research. Right now I’m working on a prototype of a compostable glow-stick made entirely out of algae-based products,” said Whitehead, adding her product is so safe you can practically eat it. “I can’t legally say that yet because these products need to meet a lot of regulations.”

She said many of the glow-sticks on the market today contain carcinogens and other toxins.

“I’ve been to black-light parties where people spray them on clothes and that kind of thing, so it’s quite dangerous. They say on the package not to do that but just knowing that that is something that happens,” said Whitehead, adding even if you don’t come in contact with the contents yourself “it’s definitely not something you want leaching into your ecosystem.”

The fourth-year microbiology and environmental studies student has joined forces with a research team in Arizona who has been working on the issue for 20 years, and has also been in contact with a company that produced an edible straw about designing the container for her glow-stick, which will be called Light Wand.

She says they are working on extending the glow time for Light Wand, which now produces a bright glow for about 30 to 60 minutes, with a lower glow for another couple hours after that. She says if the enzyme used in the glow-stick was the size of a person, “it would be producing enough light to be seen from outer space, so it’s really a powerful reaction.”

Whitehead is now working on developing the moulds needed to go into large-scale production, with a goal of 10,000 produced for the first batch, as well as the process needed to get a business off the ground with things like patenting and licensing the trade name in Canada and the U.S.

She is working on a prototype that she can send out as a sample and will be primarily focusing on festivals around B.C.

“I have got in touch with a number of festivals who are really interested but it’s something no one’s seen before. That’s going to be the most important part, just getting those first samples out and making sure they’re good to go,” said Whitehead, who moved to Saanich from the Comox Valley about five years ago.

She says her market research suggests people are more likely to purchase something from the festival itself.

“You could get it with your ticket, or it might be at the main merchandise area. They will be available online as well,” said Whitehead, who just launched her website lightbynyoka.com and should have a Kick Starter campaign running by the summer.

Whitehead says she’s very interested in soil science and developing common-use items that don’t harm the environment, but she expects the Light Wand to be her main focus over the next few years.

“I definitely see this as one of the main things I’ll be doing while continuing my studies on to graduate school.”

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