Teenager cracks 30-year-old heartburn medication mystery

Aged 15, Jackson Huang (pictured)  was named the International Brain Bee Champion for his knowledge about neurology.

At 17, he cracked a 30-year mystery about why chemicals in heartburn drugs interact negatively with each other. He won a  science and engineering award from CSIRO and BHP Billiton for his thesis that aluminium hydroxide should not be administered with calcium alginate. This gives him an opportunity to visit the US in May  to compete in an international science and engineering fair.

One of his mentors, Dr Wayde Martens from the Queensland University of Technology, describes Jackson as one of the “most satisfying” students he has ever mentored for International Baccalaureate projects.

“It’s exciting that young scientists like Mr Huang go back to first principles to find unresolved problems and offer solutions.”

Here Jackson answers Rachel Worsley’s questions.  

Why did you decide to investigate heartburn medications?

We were learning about them in chemistry in the International Baccalaureate.  I found research from 1986 that shows combining the antacid aluminium hydroxide with the calcium alginate leads to a weakening effect on the [calcium alginate] gel layer. I couldn’t find any solutions others had provided and thought this was a window of opportunity to make a difference.

What did you find in your project?

I found that the increased weakening and increased brittleness of the gel is due to aluminium ions in the aluminium hydroxide antacid binding to the alginate polymers.