Beaverton student named finalist in 3M Young Scientist Challenge
After competing in the finals of a national science competition, a Westview High School freshman says he's inspired to stick with the field and keep working on an invention he hopes will advance medical research.
Ekansh Mittal, 14, was a finalist in the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge. The finals were held Oct. 12 and Oct. 13 as a virtual event. On the first day, Mittal competed in teams, but he was able to present his personal project virtually to the judges the next day.
Researching cancer detection methods, Mittal developed a microfluidic device that mimics conditions of the gut microbiome to help test the relationship between bacteria and cancer, as well as new treatments against the disease-causing microorganisms and cancer cells. His device landed him a finalist position in the contest. At the time, he was in the eighth grade at Meadow Park Middle School in Beaverton.
Mittal says the presentation was easy because all his hard work was done.
"During the question and answer portion, I didn't get nervous," he recalled. "I was excited for it because I enjoy doing Q-and-A in general."
While Mittal didn't win the competition, he says the challenge inspired him to stay in science and continue working on his project for the long term.
Mittal has a personal connection to his work.
At the beginning of the year, Mittal and his family visited India. Just a month after they got home, though, his great-aunt was diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer. She died a short time after her diagnosis.
Mittal was one of 10 finalists in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
The annual 3M Young Scientist Challenge invites fifth- through eighth-grade students to submit a one- to two-minute video describing a unique solution to an everyday problem for the chance to win $25,000 and an exclusive 3M mentorship.
Mittal had the opportunity to work with 3M research specialist, Dr. Vasav Sahni.
According to the competition's website, Sahni holds a doctorate in polymer science from the University of Akron, where he worked on investigating and mimicking spider-spun adhesives. He also has a bachelor's degree in textile technology from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.
"He taught me a lot about communication skills and how to develop my project," Mittal said. "It was great having someone to bounce ideas off of every single week and having someone that I could always reach out for support. If I didn't have the opportunity to work with Dr. Sahni, I definitely would have not made as much progress as I had."
Mittal believes it's important for students to get involved in STEM at a young age.
"Eventually, we're going to have to run this planet," said Mittal. "So, if none of us decide to go into science and none of us decide to go into STEM, then we won't be able to progress as a society."
Mittal doesn't know what career he wants in the future, but he hopes to study bioengineering at some point in his life.
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