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Talk Time: Inspired by Nature

By Poornima Apte Email By Poornima Apte
March 2017
Talk Time: Inspired by Nature

Maanasa Mendu is a ninth-grader in Mason, Ohio, but she’s already dreaming big. And why not? She won the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for creating Harvest, a bio-inspired device that uses alternative sources to produce energy. The 13-year-old received $25,000 and was named “America’s Top Young Scientist.”

What first got you interested in science?
I loved math at first, especially the intricacies and challenges associated with problems. Then in middle school, I had amazing STEM teachers that pushed science beyond the limits of the classroom and revealed through competitions and extensions that science is basically in everything. Ever since then I have mostly loved science, and being a scientist and actively making a difference in our world seems like the perfect job option. Most of all I want a job where I will actively make a difference in the world and love every day, whether being a scientist, teacher, or something else.

How did you hear about the 3M Young Scientist Challenge? Why did you decide it would be a good idea to participate?
I found out about the Discovery Education and 3M young scientist challenge after searching on the web for possible competitions to enter my project in. My teachers were very supportive of my entry.

Tell us what your innovation is about.
I created a bio-inspired device that harvests mechanical energy in the forms of wind and precipitation through the piezoelectric effect (an amazing phenomenon in which certain materials produce electricity when exposed to mechanical strain), and solar energy through organic photovoltaics in a single design. HARVEST is not my first invention. I started off with creating other basic piezoelectric devices like a hand pressure-based harvester, flashlight, shoe insole insert, and eventually I developed HARVEST. The overall goal of this project is to deploy HARVEST to at least provide basic light to several of the 1.2 billion people around the world.

How did the idea for it come about?
This idea was actually nature-inspired. After observing the swaying of tree branches when exposed to wind, I realized that it resembled how piezoelectric materials produced an electric charge when exposed to vibrations, and I decided to emulate this natural mechanism.

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How did you celebrate at home after you learned that you had won the prize? How about at school?
Everyone was very excited and proud. At my school, all of my teachers were proud. They said congratulations, and asked me to explain the project in further depth to the entire class. Of course, my friends were also very happy, and amazed. Our school newspaper and broadcasting center even made a story about this.

What are the next steps for you in terms of what your plans are for HARVEST?
First, I plan on maximizing the efficiency of my product by testing different materials and configurations. Then I plan to conduct further practicality testing to determine any other environmental implications. I plan on reaching out to businesses and nonprofit organizations to deploy my innovation across the world.


What are your favorite things to do in your free time?
I love to read science fiction, classics, and historical fiction. I especially love Little Women and all things Jane Austen. Lunar Chronicles, Dark Matter, Ender's Game, 1984, and the Harry Potter series. I also like swimming, playing tennis, hiking, and basically anything outdoors. I play the violin, sketch landscapes, tutor in STEM, and volunteer at a local old age home.

What one thing are you most curious about today?
What the universe is made up of (dark matter).

Do you have any siblings? Do they like to learn from you or not really?
Yes, I have one younger sister, Haasini, and at times she likes to follow in my path with science and math. I try to teach her more advanced math concepts. However, she is very different and good at more creative aspects like reading and writing.

What is the best part about receiving this recognition?
It has inspired me to further develop my device into a practical application.

Who is your favorite pop star?
I like many different pop stars (no one in particular). I like listening to Adele, Twenty One Pilots, and Coldplay.

What does your family in India think about all the attention you have received?
They are all extremely proud!


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Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor. Learn more at WordCumulus.WordPress.com.



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