At only 12 years old, middle schooler Maria Elena Grimmett from Jupiter, Fla., became a 2011 Broadcom MASTERS finalist, later winning the Mathematics Prize at the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS.
Fast-forward to today: Grimmett continued to research her passion for curbing water pollution (mostly from her family’s dining room table) to identify a new water purification method. Her efforts culminated in a $100,000 scholarship prize from the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, the nation’s premier research competition for high school students. Read more about Grimmett’s award here.
“I was shaking on the stage,” Grimmett, now 17, said of her win. “It’s the most amazing feeling in the world, especially when I was put up against the other finalists. It is such an honor and has been an amazing journey.”
Collaboration is Key
Grimmett was 10 when she noticed that her family’s well water was tinged brown, and she wondered why. She soon learned about pharmaceutical pollution in the Florida Everglades, and set out on an investigation to solve a pervasive worldwide water pollution problem.
Her first task was to figure out a new way to remove sulfamethazine, a common veterinary antibiotic used in pigs and cows, from water. Experimenting with a resin called Purolite MN250, which she said are “basically tiny plastic beads,” Grimmett studied which conditions enable the beads to attract and pull the antibiotics out of the water.
Her research earned her a finalist slot at the 2011 Broadcom MASTERS. Through week-long team challenges, Grimmett learned teamwork and collaboration are “the most important ingredients when presented with difficult science and engineering problems,” she said.
When faced with challenges, Grimmett said, “What initially looked impossible to each team member individually became do-able when we pooled our knowledge together, created a plan, and then simultaneously worked on tasks to create a solution. Broadcom MASTERS 2011 opened our eyes to a new path for success.”
Broadcom MASTERS Opens Doors
Using award funding from the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS, Grimmett attended a two-week Science and Literature program at Cambridge University in England to explore scientific discovery and its influence on literature. She learned about Charles Darwin by visiting his home and worked side-by-side with Cambridge University professors.
Grimmett also presented her research at the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C. when she was 12 years old that helped her to “become more comfortable discussing my work with professional scientists.”
“Broadcom MASTERS was my first experience with top level science programs and motivated me to continue my research over the years,” said Grimmett. “It showed me what could be achieved by pursuing scientific research and drove me to later present my research 14 times at professional conferences, publish my research, and become a three-time Intel ISEF finalist. I hope to make it to Intel ISEF again in 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.”
Scientific Community Lends a Hand
Grimmett used her new skills in teamwork and collaboration to reach out to scientists and researchers from published articles who “have always been glad to answer questions about their work, providing me with scientific tips to overcome any hurdles in my path.”
She also began presenting at scientific conventions over the past several years that has created a network of scientists who act as mentors. “They validated the lessons I learned at the Broadcom MASTERS that scientific collaboration is vital to solving complex problems,” said Grimmett. “Determination, perseverance, and imaginative thinking will take you to places you never dreamed possible. The best part is that it is a lot of fun too.”
“Maria Elena is a two-time Broadcom MASTERS champion, and her brother, Glenn, followed in her footsteps in 2015. She has led the way for him and hundreds of other amazing young scientists and engineers who compete in their science fairs,” said Paula Golden President, Broadcom Foundation & Director, Broadcom Community Affairs.
The water remediation research that Grimmett presented at the Broadcom MASTERS in 2011 ultimately led to two scientific publications in the Journal of Environmental Quality, the first in January 2013 when she was 14 years old and the second in July 2015 when she was 16. She became the youngest author to publish original research in the history of the 43-year-old Journal of Environmental Quality.
“Throughout her research and discoveries, Maria Elena demonstrated the unabashed curiosity and resolve that inspires other scientists to question the world around them and strive to make it better,” said (Siemens) competition judge Dr. Randy Wayne, Associate Professor, Section of Plant Biology at Cornell University. “Her journey of discovery showed perseverance and exhibited a unique and organic approach, not only in the subject matter she undertook but in her methodology and resource use. She never stopped asking questions, and never stopped trying to find the answers.”
Grimmett anticipates majoring in engineering in college and pursuing computer modeling and programming. “STEM is future of this country,” said Grimmett. “If we don’t have people innovating, we will never go forward and move together as a society.”