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14-Year-Old Scientist Makes a Groundbreaking Discovery

Science & Tech  (tags: americans, child, education, sadness, safety, scientists, research, science, study, environment, health )

- 1852 days ago -
Maria Elena Grimmett is working to ensure that people around the world have safe drinking water.

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JL A (281)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 5:57 pm

14-Year-Old Scientist Makes a Groundbreaking Discovery

Maria Elena Grimmett is working to ensure that people around the world have safe drinking water.

April 30, 2013

Suzi Parker

Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Maria Elena Grimmett has won several competitions and inspires young girls interested in science. (Photo c/o Maria Elena Grimmett)

Maria Elena Grimmett is only 14, but she already has a seven-page resume.

The teen has become a highly decorated scientist for her research on groundwater contaminants. She is also the youngest author to be published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. Out of 30 finalists, she was awarded first place in mathematics in the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS competition, the national science, technology, engineering, and math competition for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

She also has a planet named after her because of all of her research achievements. Minor Planet 27410, discovered by the Linear Project of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which orbits between Mars and Jupiter, was named Grimmett in 2011 and is recognized by the International Astronomical Union.

And if that wasn’t enough, Maria Elena made history at the 56th annual Palm Beach County Science and Engineering Fair in December when all judges awarded her perfect scores—the first time that’s happened in the competition’s history.

Maria Elena specifically focuses on water, the contaminants in it, and how they can be removed. Currently, her focus is on the drug, sulfamethazine, and the ways that “Hypercrosslinked Adsorbent MN250” can remove it from groundwater.

“I really got hooked on science because the scientific method is a series of logical steps that can identify and solve difficult problems and help the world,” she told TakePart.

She first got into science in third grade, thanks to an inspiring teacher who was supportive of science projects. Maria Elena entered the school’s science fair for the next several years until it was discontinued due to a lack of staff and resources. But that didn’t stop her.

“There was only one science teacher in the entire middle school, and she didn’t think she could help all of us fairly, so that’s why it had to stop,” Maria Elena said. “I decided to continue on my own, leading me to the path I am on today.”

She was interested in the environment and water purification specifically because she had seen something curious happen at her house.

"I live next to a golf course and I always saw them spray pesticides on the lawn."

“I live next to a golf course and I always saw them spray pesticides on the lawn,” she said. “I wondered if these contaminants could possibly get in the water table because naturally Florida has a shallow water table.”

The answer, she discovered, was yes. Maria Elena wanted to know more, but challenges occurred.

She needed a super-sensitive test for pharmaceutical contaminants at parts-per-billion concentrations. She tried to get into local research labs. But she was denied entry because of federal labor laws that stated she couldn’t enter a lab until she was 16. She didn’t give up.

Maria Elena attended water and other scientific conventions and eventually met a scientist from the Scripps Research Institute, who told her about ELISA tests that use antibodies and color change to identify a substance. That breakthrough allowed her to test pharmaceuticals and successfully finish her seventh-grade project. As one experiment builds on the other, Maria Elena’s constant research paid off.

In eighth grade, she discovered something that was an unpublished result: MN250, a Purolite hypercrosslinked adsorbent, has a high adsorption capacity for sulfamethazine and minimal desorption in distilled water. That means it could be a promising adsorbent for sulfamethazine removal from contaminated groundwater.

Her father, Dr. Michael Grimmett, an ophthalmologist, said that when Maria Elena first announced her scientific experiment plans in 2009, the family was split.

“My wife was very concerned that this extracurricular activity was going to take away from her regular studies and also interfere with summer vacation plans for the family since her experimentation typically consumes the entire summer,” Michael Grimmett told TakePart. “Maria Elena was just starting sixth grade at The Weiss School, which is an accredited school for the gifted, and the curriculum was challenging. Putting it mildly, my wife, Karen, was not enamored with Maria Elena’s plan.”

It was Maria Elena’s sincerity that ended up convincing her parents.

“I knew it would be a huge challenge, particularly since she had no lab supplies, no professional lab, no source of outside funding, no school coordinator to complete the regulatory paperwork for the Science Fairs, and no research mentor with expertise in water research.”

Michael Grimmett even cancelled a day and a half of his medical practice to drive his daughter to a national water convention in Orlando, Florida, for her to perform science fair background research. He also purchased laboratory-grade chemicals and ELISA testing equipment under Maria Elena’s direction for needed materials. The family has spent about $3,000 annually on her projects.

6 Extraordinary Kid Geniuses

What’s next for Maria Elena, who is now a freshman at Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches?

More experiments this summer, of course, and she also wants to represent Florida at the Stockholm Junior Water Prize national competition when she turns 15, her first year of eligibility. She also hopes to meet the Russian scientist, Dr. Vadim Davankov, who, as she says, changed the entire adsorbent industry with his invention of hypercrossedlinked adsorbents. The two have already corresponded.

Her dream, she said, is that “water engineers will be able to remove sulfamethazine from water around the world.”

Using her research, of course.

Terry V (30)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 6:04 pm
Very impressive young lady. Thank you, and shared

JL A (281)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 7:07 pm
You are welcome Terry.
You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last day.

Michael O (176)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 7:28 pm
Great work! I hope to read more about Miss Grimmett in the future. She sounds like she has a bright future in helping humanity!

Kerrie G (116)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 8:29 pm
Noted, thanks.

Christeen A (371)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 8:29 pm
Very interesting. Please keep up the good work Marie. Thank you.

JL A (281)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 8:32 pm
You are welcome Kerrie and Christeen,

Nena G (39)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 1:11 am
Thanks for posting, very cool! Inspiring and hopeful. (noted, too)

Past Member (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 2:09 am
Wow! What an awesome young girl! :-))

Past Member (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 2:56 am
One young lady who will have a huge impact on our world in a few years time.

Kip Mapes (28)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 3:38 am
Lovely Girl good to remember thu it is easier and cheaper to try our best to Keep the water clean than try and fix it after.:-) Thank the Lord she is here now with us working on this issue.

Lynn D (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 3:44 am
Great, thanks!

Past Member (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 4:01 am
Everybody's got their potential if develped

Past Member (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 4:09 am
thanks for sharing

Sonali G (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 4:42 am
I hope that she continues to pursue her gift to benefit our world and help to save the planet. Wouldn't that be great?

mary ann s (35)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 5:14 am
What a wonderful young women!! Thank you for sharing nice story

Daniel Partlow (179)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 6:34 am
Highly impressive. You go girl!

Lindsay Kemp (6)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 6:54 am
Very impressive!

JL A (281)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 8:04 am
You are welcome Nena, Lynn, Ramesh and Mary ann.
You cannot currently send a star to Fi because you have done so within the last day.
You cannot currently send a star to Dan and Tina because you have done so within the last day.


. (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 12:44 pm
There's hope yet....

Theodore Shayne (56)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 1:51 pm

JL A (281)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 3:01 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last day.

Lisa Zilli (17)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 5:48 pm
Thanks for sharing, very impressive teenager.

JL A (281)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 6:01 pm
You are welcome Lisa.You cannot currently send a star to Lisa because you have done so within the last day.

Freya H (357)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 8:28 pm
Ms. Grimmett needs to at least contemplate joining Mensa - if she isn't already a member! She is a great inspiration, the kind of role model girls need. She gets ahead with her brains and hard work, not her beauty.
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