3M Young Scientist Challenge Winner

December 11, 2020

Every year, 3M hosts their Young Scientist Challenge in which 5th through 8th-grade students from across the United States enter for a chance to win the coveted title of 3M’s Young Scientist Challenge winner and $25,000! One of the main requirements of the Challenge? The project must solve one of the world’s greatest problems!

This year’s entries ranged from an energy-harvesting turf to a crop disease detection system to muck-based concrete! Talk about thinking outside the box to solve some really big problems!

Earlier this fall, ten finalists were given the opportunity to present their projects to a panel of judges in a virtual event. The judges made their selection based on the student’s “innovative thinking, scientific acumen, and display of exceptional communication skills.” After the presentations, the judges named fourteen-year-old Anika Chebrolu the winner of this year’s Young Scientist Challenge. Chebrolu discovered a molecule that can attach to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which could potentially change the shape of the spike and keep it from attaching to human cells.

We had a chance to e-interview Chebrolu. Check out what she had to say about her discovery!

2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge Winner Anika Chebrolu
Photo Courtesy of 3M

Q: Tell us about your project.
Anika: Through my research, I discovered a molecule that can attach to the spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and potentially change its shape and function. If you change the spike protein shape, you can prevent the virus from being able to grab onto human cells and thereby reduce or treat further infection in a person’s body.

Q: How did you come up with the idea?
Anika: A few years ago, I studied the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic for a school project, and I became fascinated with viruses and drug discovery. I began researching drug discovery and found out about the in silico methodology. I was amazed at how we could use computational methods to identify and develop potential drug-like molecules to combat diseases.

Last year, I tried using this methodology to identify a lead compound that could bind to the hemagglutinin protein of influenza virus. I was working on this project and looking for further support to develop this molecule when COVID-19 hit.

After spending so much time researching pandemics, viruses, and drug discovery, it was crazy to think that I was actually living through something like this. Because of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it’s made on the world this past year, I, with the support of my mentor, Dr. Mahfuza Ali from the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, decided to change the direction of my initial project to focus on how to potentially target the Spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Anika Chebrolu, 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge Winner
Photo Courtesy of 3M

Q: What do you think are the three key things to consider when entering a science competition?
Anika: Always remember to never stop asking questions and to always trust and believe in yourself!

Make sure to jump at any opportunity with your best abilities, as you never know where you could end up.

Never give up! Sometimes, it feels like science is trying to make this hard for us, but it’s actually giving us more ideas and information to help us continue our work.

Q: What are you planning to do with your science experiment?
Anika: My research is merely the first stage of a long and tedious drug discovery process to come. It needs to be tested further by in vivo and in vitro methods to see if it can provide an effective antiviral against the COVID-19 pandemic.