Inventor of the Week Archive
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Kavita Shukla may have just finished high school, but she is already on her way to a prolific
career in science and invention, with two patents and a company of her own to her credit.
Shukla was born in Germany to Indian parents who moved to the United States when she was a
young child. The soon-to-be Harvard University student
(Fall 2002), attended high school in Ellicott City, Maryland. At the age of 13, she created
a lab safety device for bottles containing hazardous materials. She patented the device,
dubbing it the "Smart Lid."
Around that time she also became interested in the potential uses of an Indian herb called
fenugreek in preserving food and fighting bacterial growth. While visiting her grandparents
during a trip to India at age 12, Shukla accidentally drank contaminated water. Her
grandmother whipped up a home-made concoction containing ground fenugreek seeds and gave it
to her to consume, saying, "Take this and you'll be fine." Shukla was skeptical, but she
took the powder and did not become ill.
When she returned home to the United States, Shukla began conducting her own experiments
with fenugreek, exploring its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Through her research,
she found that fenugreek could not only remove toxic substances from aqueous solutions but
could also inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. She wondered if this discovery could be
applied to food preservation, and had an idea to develop a packaging paper using fenugreek
that might better preserve and protect items from bacteria and fungi.
Shukla was onto something: she observed that food wrapped in fenugreek-treated paper lasts
four to six weeks longer than food protected by traditional wrapping. It is also natural,
non-toxic, biodegradable and easily produced in large quantities, making it ideal for
developing countries and developed nations alike. She obtained a patent for her
fenugreek-treated paper in the spring of 2002.
Also in 2002, Shukla was the winner of the
Lemelson-MIT Invention Apprenticeship
. She worked with her Invention Mentor David Payton, Principal Research Scientist in
the Information Sciences Lab at HRL Laboratories, for two
weeks. Their project was related to the development of software for controlling hundreds
of tiny robots with the goal of making them work collectively. The robots could then
accomplish tasks such as search and rescue.
In addition to her academic and scientific prowess, Shukla is an accomplished violinist and
dancer, and she also has entrepreneurial talent. She is co-founder and CEO of SAFEH2O, a
non-profit, student-run water testing company that operates in partnership with Columbia,
Md.-based W.R. Grace. SAFEH2O has tested more than 450
residential water samples in the Baltimore area and alerted residents about problems, such
as excessive lead or other impurities. Shukla has overseen virtually all aspects of the
project, from marketing and finance to research and management duties.
Shukla has received a number of national and international awards for her inventions.
Her honors include the Grand Award in Environmental Sciences at the
International Science and Engineering Fair,
the largest international science competition, and induction into the
National Gallery for America's Young Inventors.
She was one of 50 students selected nationwide for a
Coca-Cola National Scholarship
and was one of 20 students chosen from over 1,600 nominees to USA Today's Academic
First Team. At Harvard, she plans to major in biology and economics and pursue a career
in research or medicine.