Teen’s Covid-19 Project Wins $25K 3M Challenge

Frisco, Texas: A 14-year-old Indian-American girl has won a $25,000 young scientist challenge for a discovery that could provide a potential treatment for Covid-19.

Anika Chebrolu, an eighth grader from Nelson Middle School in Frisco, has won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, regarded as the US’ premier middle school science competition, for her work using in-silico methodology for drug discovery to find a molecule that can selectively bind to the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 virus in an attempt to find a cure for the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 3M Challenge website.

Chebrolu decided to take part in the Young Scientist Challenge after she battled a severe influenza infection last year. She wanted to find a cure for influenza. However, that all changed after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the website said.

Why did you enter the Young Scientist Challenge?

I have always been amazed by science experiments since my childhood and I was drawn towards finding effective cures for Influenza disease after a severe bout of the infection last year. I would like to learn more from 3M scientists to pursue my drug development and with their help, would like to conduct in-vitro and in-vivo testing of my lead drug candidat

Here are some questions and answers with Anika.

What is your favorite invention of the last 100 years, and why?

My favorite invention is the Internet because it allows us to explore so much with just a few clicks. I find it a treasure trove of information and it has become a valuable asset in pursuing knowledge and conducting research from anywhere and at anytime. I am amazed at how vast and profound it is and cannot imagine a world without the internet. When coupled with proper judgement and use, we can achieve so much more and I am enthused at its potential each time I use it.

In 15 years I hope to be…

A medical researcher and professor.

Anika’s 3M Mentor was 3M scientist Dr. Mahfuza Ali.

Have you ever used masking or painter’s tape? Then you may have encountered the science of Dr. Mahfuza Ali. Dr. Ali is a Corporate scientist in 3M’s Materials Resource Division. She invented and developed a novel Quaternary Ammonium Materials Technology Platform that has generated several highly successful commercialized products for 3M, including antistatic polarizer films used for laptops and TVs, ink-receptive films used for printing durable, brighter images and antimicrobial coatings.

Since joining 3M in 1984 after graduating with a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Kentucky and completing one year of post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Mahfuza has worked on product-development efforts with several business units of 3M and co-authored numerous patents that cover a large variety of commercialized products in multiple markets. She was also recently selected as North America’s top Industrial Chemist for 2020 by the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific community.

The second winner in 2020 of the 3M Challenge was Hannah Herbst. Hannah’s Ocean Energy Probe aims to provide a stable power source and fresh water to developing countries around the globe by using untapped energy from ocean currents. The energy is stored in a generator, and then can be harnessed for many uses, including the desalinization of water.

Finalists in 2020 included Laasya Acharya of Mason, Ohio. Her project allows farmers to easily and effectively detect diseased and unhealthy crops to reduce food waste and loss during the harvesting phase.