LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM AWARDS 2002 HIGH
SCHOOL APPRENTICESHIP TO INVENTIVE MARYLAND STUDENT
Kavita Shukla Holds Patents for Lab
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
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
"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
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
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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