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Kavita Shukla Holds Patents for Lab Safety
and Innovative Food Packaging

CAMBRIDGE, MA, June 4, 2002—The Lemelson-MIT Program announced today that Kavita Shukla has won its fourth annual high school invention apprenticeship, a custom-tailored learning experience designed around the winning student's interests. Shukla, a 17 year-old 12th grader from Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Maryland, was selected for her impressive scientific credentials and her work developing a new food packaging paper with antibacterial and antifungal properties. This innovative paper uses the seeds of fenugreek, an ancient Indian herb, to preserve food better than traditional packaging. Shukla was granted a U.S. patent, her second, for this paper in April. She obtained her first U.S. patent for "Smart Lid," a lab safety device for bottles containing hazardous materials, which she invented at the age of 13.

The Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship is designed to provide hands-on experience in a scientific and technological environment. The winning student is paired with a leading scientist, technologist, engineer or entrepreneur—anywhere in the country—who serves as an "Invention Mentor." The student can choose to work on a project of his or her own design or assist in one of the mentor's projects. Shukla's Invention Mentor will be David Payton, one of the nation's leading authorities in autonomous systems and robotics. Payton is Principal Research Scientist in the Information Sciences Lab at HRL Laboratories, a premier applied research center in electronics and information sciences in Malibu, California that is jointly owned by The Boeing Company, General Motors and Raytheon Company.

Shukla has been developing her innovative fenugreek paper for the past five years. She first became interested in fenugreek, which has been used for centuries as a spice, after accidentally drinking contaminated water while visiting her grandparents in India. Her grandmother gave her a homegrown remedy of ground fenugreek seeds and, remarkably, she did not become ill. Through her research, Shukla learned that fenugreek could not only remove toxic substances from aqueous solutions but could also inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. When she noticed spoiled strawberries her mother had bought, she wondered whether fenugreek might exhibit the same protective properties with fruit as she had experienced in India. It was then that she thought of developing a packaging paper using fenugreek that might better preserve and protect items from bacteria and fungi. She observed that food wrapped in fenugreek-treated paper lasts four to six weeks longer than food protected by traditional wrapping. There are added advantages of using fenugreek in packaging material, as well. It is natural, non-toxic, biodegradable and easily produced in large quantities, making it ideal for developing countries and developed nations alike.

"I hope to use new ideas and technology to better the lives of people everywhere," says Shukla. "Since I was twelve, I have thought that fenugreek could have applications in treating the many people who die or get sick as a result of waterborne diseases each year. The most important thing I've learned thus far in my research is how little we know and how much remains to be learned."

In addition to her academic and scientific prowess, Shukla also exhibits an entrepreneurial bent. 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 region and alerted residents about problems, such as excessive lead or impurities. Shukla has overseen virtually all aspects of the project, from marketing and finance to research and management duties.

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Shukla's rare combination of intelligence, compassion, talent and dedication has greatly impressed her peers and teachers: "I've taught science for almost 30 years and Kavita is the most memorable student," says Ed Rohde, Chairman of the Science Department at Centennial High School and Kavita's mentor in SAFEH2O. "Never in my extended teaching career did I meet such a dedicated, energetic and knowledgeable young scientist. Teachers are supposed to stimulate students to explore and challenge themselves. With Kavita, it's a mutual thing—she actually inspires and encourages me."

The judges for the Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship were equally impressed by Shukla's innovativeness and creativity. "Kavita's ability to see an innovative application of a process that will benefit others on a much larger scale stood out to the committee," says Cynthia Crockett, Physical Science Education Specialist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who chaired the selection committee. "Her vision and sense of striving to improve everyday life for the good of others and the environment is truly a gift and a model for others."

Shukla's Invention Apprenticeship will take place June 3 -14 at HRL, where she will be mentored by Payton, who is currently leading a Pheromone Robotics project. The project is developing software for controlling hundreds of tiny robots with the goal of making them work collectively, as a single entity, for tasks such as search and rescue or for helping soldiers clear and secure unfamiliar buildings. He has more than 20 publications in the area of autonomous systems and robotics and holds six U.S. patents.

The list of international, national and regional awards that Shukla has received for her inventions is lengthy. She earned the Grand Award in Environmental Sciences at the International Science and Engineering Fair, the largest international science competition, and was inducted into the National Gallery for America's Young Inventors. She was one of 50 students selected nationwide for a Coca-Cola National Scholarship, an award based on academic, community service and extracurricular achievements. She was also one of 20 students chosen from over 1600 nominees to USA Today's Academic First Team. She has also won numerous state and regional science competitions during the past five years.

Shukla, who is also a skilled violinist, excels at traditional Indian dance and participates on the school's speech team. She hopes to continue her research on fenugreek, as well as develop other devices that can better the lives of others. She will enroll this fall at Harvard University, where she plans to major in biology and economics and pursue a career in research or medicine.

The winner of last year's Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship, Jordan Sand of Ellendale, North Dakota, spent three weeks at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, an internationally respected laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy. Sand's predecessor, Charles Johnson of Hamilton, Texas, spent three weeks at the Intel Architecture Labs (IAL), Intel Corporation's research center in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The Program's mission is to raise the stature of inventors and innovators and to foster invention and innovation among young people. It accomplishes this by celebrating inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards, including the world's largest for invention—the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno. Last fall, the Lemelson-MIT Program and MIT Press released Inventing Modern America: From the Microwave to the Mouse (www.inventingmodernamerica.com), an illustrated book that profiles 35 American inventors who helped shape the modern world.

Read more about Kavita Shukla.

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