Meet 6 of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists - SmartBrief

All Articles Education Updates Meet 6 of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists

Meet 6 of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists

Read more about 6 Young Scientist Challenge finalists and their projects.

5 min read


3M Young Scientists Challenge finalists 2022

Discovery Education. L-R top: Shanza Sami, John Lee, Daniel Thomas, Leanne Fan, Samaira Mehta, Harini Venkatesh, Amritha Praveen. (L-R bottom: Asvini Thivakaran, Sahasra Swargam.

SmartBrief has put together a Q&A with six of the nine finalists for last fall’s 3M Young Scientist Challenge with Discovery Education. We asked about their projects, their earliest memories of STEM involvement, the challenges they’ve faced and advice for educators who want more students to take STEM classes. 

Read the details of each student below, then see Part 1 and Part 2 for the Q&A.

Leanne Fan of San Diego
  • First-place winner/America’s Top Young Scientist and ninth-grader at Westville High School in Poway Unified School District. 
  • Project: Finsen headphones designed to treat mid-ear infections using machine learning and phototherapy.
  • Description: Every year, there are 700 million cases of mid-ear infections (otitis media) and nearly 21,000 deaths worldwide. Many of those affected are children and underprivileged populations. Without medical access and or health care, diagnosis and treatment of mid-ear infections are often difficult. Leanne’s invention, Finsen headphones, provides a low-cost option to detect and treat a mid-ear infection using machine learning and blue light therapy — potentially preventing up to 60% of hearing loss in children.
Harini Venkatesh of Brentwood, N.H.
  • Second-place winner and eighth-grader at CM Rice Middle School.
  • Project: The Comptometrist: an efficient way to determine myopic power.
  • Description: The calculation of eye power can be slow and error-prone. On average, it takes nearly an hour to complete an eye examination which can open a window for error. Every year, more than 2.8 million people find significant issues with their optical prescriptions. To address this issue, Harini developed the Comptometrist, a prototype designed to cut down the time needed to determine myopic power in a patient’s eyes. Harini’s prototype would eliminate crowding in clinics, report accurate measures of myopic power in seconds and close the window of error in the eye examination process.
Shanza Sami of Iowa City, Iowa
  • Third-place winner and ninth-grader at West High School.
  • Project: Pura Aerem: leveraging catalytic converters for enhanced filtering efficacy.
  • Description: Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health. By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of diseases from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.

Shanza has developed a five-stage prototype with a diffuse filtration system, carbon nanotube screening, electrolysis chamber, hydrogen fuel cells and photoelectrochemical oxidation technology. The carbon nanotube filtration system will be utilized to adhere to carbon dioxide through dynamic simulations. Additionally, water vapor will be utilized through an electrolysis chamber and hydrogen fuel cell to separate water vapor into breathable oxygen and hydrogen. Shanza hopes to use PECO technology to decompose volatile organic compounds that are dangerous to inhale.

John Lee of Oviedo, Fla.
  • Finalist and ninth-grader at Hagerty High School,
  • Project: A novel mos2 electrode for enhancing electrochemical hydrogen production.
  • Description: Hydrogen can improve energy consumption by producing an alternative energy source to carbon-based fuels. It has numerous benefits, such as high energy density and zero pollution. However, the current method to produce hydrogen in industries uses fossil fuels, producing carbon dioxide. Electrochemical hydrogen production can be a clean and efficient alternative to producing hydrogen, with water being the only byproduct. There are several considerations for electrochemical hydrogen production like cathode material, electrolytes and applied voltage. In this research, metal electrodes (e.g., Zn, Cu, Al, Ni, Sn, and Fe) were tested as metal catalysts for electrochemical hydrogen production to determine optimum operational conditions).
Samaira Mehta of Santa Clara, Calif.
  • Finalist and ninth-grader at Archbishop Mitty High School.
  • Project: OVision: the automatic assessment of ovarian cancer features and mesothelin protein overexpression from histopathological images using deep learning.
  • Description: Ovarian cancer is the deadliest cancer of the female reproductive organs, with 65% of ovarian cancer patients dying each year in the US alone. To reduce that number, doctors need to develop personalized treatment plans after accurately classifying the OC subtypes: high-grade serous carcinoma, low-grade serous carcinoma, endometrioid carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma and clear cell carcinoma. By simply looking at histopathological images, it is often difficult for pathologists to distinguish between the subtypes accurately.

Samaira’s research utilizes a Deep Learning Convolutional Neural Network, based on VGG-16, to classify ovarian cancer subtypes and detect whether mesothelin protein was overexpressed, based on histopathological images. Current platforms for uploading histopathological images and getting results on cancer types require a great deal of technical expertise. Aiming to change that, with this platform, any doctor can get access to immediate, accurate results.

Asvini Thivakaran of  Round Rock, Texas
  • Finalist and eighth-grader at Cedar Valley Middle School.
  • Project: Piezoelectric power generation from automotive tires.
  • Description: Global warming, climate change and air pollution are some of the most prevalent global issues today. The transportation sector is the largest contributor to US greenhouse gas emissions, many of which come from passenger cars. To reduce these emissions, the use of electric vehicles needs to grow, but the drawback for many is their limited power.

Asvini invented a way to generate clean power while driving to increase the distance an electric vehicle can travel before needing to be charged. Asvini’s invention uses piezo material on automotive tires to generate clean, environmentally friendly power that will recharge a car while driving. She hopes her invention will attract more people to buy electric vehicles and help reduce the carbon footprint associated with driving.

The other finalists, who were unavailable for the interview, are: Aishwarya Agrawal of Bellevue, Wash., an eighth-grader at Odle Middle School; Austin Ewing of Chicago, an eighth-grader at Gwendolyn Brooks Coll Prep Academy; and Delisha Manuel of Milpitas, Calif., a sixth-grader at Stratford School-Milpitas.

Don’t forget! Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the questions and answers. Read more about the 3M Young Scientist Challenge with Discovery Education.

Diane Benson Harrington is an education writer at SmartBrief. Reach out to her via email, Twitter or LinkedIn

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


Subscribe to SmartBrief’s FREE email newsletter to see the latest hot topics on EdTech. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.