Texas teen wins $25K for creating possible treatment for coronavirus

FRISCO, Texas — An eighth-grader in Texas took up the challenge after contracting the flu last year. In the process, she may have created a potential treatment for the coronavirus.

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Anika Chebrolu, 14, a middle school student at Nelson Middle School in Frisco when she entered the contest, was awarded $25,000 for winning the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, KTVT reported. Chebrolu is now a freshman at Independence High School, KTVT reported.

According to the 3M Challenge website, Chebrolu used “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 COVID-19 pandemic.”

For the first time in the contest’s 13-year history, the top 10 finalist projects and the winner were announced during a virtual event, held Monday and Tuesday, 3M said in a news release. The finalists range in age from 12 to 14.

Chebrolu said she decided to participate in the contest after she came down with a severe case of the flu last year, KSAT reported. Her focus changed when COVID-19 began to sweep across the country. She also was driven by the scope of the pandemic and the people who were suffering.

“We just always have this constant fear who’s going to be affected by the coronavirus,” Chebrolu told the television station.

Chebrolu said she plans to become a medical researcher after she graduates.

“My grandpa, when I was younger, he always used to push me toward science," Chebrolu told KTVT. "He was actually a chemistry professor and he used to always tell me, ‘Learn the periodic table of elements.’ Over time, I just grew to love it.”

Chebrolu said she is balancing her scientific research with classical Indian dance training and artwork.

“I describe myself as a person who aspires to be a lot of things,” Chebrolu told KTVT.

Finishing second was Kyle Tianshi, an eighth-grader at The Cambridge School in San Diego. Tianshi designed a portable total suspended solids device that detects invisible particles in water to monitor water quality and contamination levels, 3M said in its release.

Laasya Acharya, a seventh-grader at Mason Middle School in Mason, Ohio, took third place. She utilized a neural network to detect crop diseases through image analysis, 3M said.

Tianshi and Acharya each received a $1,000 prize, according to a news release.

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