Three young women have won the individual and group awards at the 2015 Siemens Competition in Math Science and Technology.
Oxbridge Academy senior Maria Elena Grimmett won a $100,000 college scholarship for finding a way to purify water. Kimberly Te and Christine Yoo shared the $100,000 team award for their discovery on how to clean up oil spills.
The 17-year-old Grimmett received the prestigious 2015 Siemens Competition Award in Math, Science & Technology after six years of research. She discovered a way to remove a veterinary antibiotic, sulfamethazine, from water.
At the age of 11, Maria Elena wanted to improve the brown water that she and her family had access to in Jupiter, Florida. After discovering that pharmaceutical pollution in the region was to blame for water pollution, she set out on her lengthy investigation. The situation aggravated her, The Washington Post reports.
"I couldn't imagine how people were letting this happen."
Six years later, Maria Elena won the top prize in the Siemens Competition after beating about 1,800 contestants. She told CBS News:
"I was absolutely amazed. It was great to be chosen from a group of such amazing students."
Grimmett's method consists of using small, reusable plastic beads that can be integrated in the water delivery system. Her method helps remove harmful contaminants that can be a serious public health hazard given that the bacteria they create are immune to antibiotics.
The tiny plastic beads work like a magnet, attracting the antibiotics in water and helping pull them out. According to Grimmett, she has discovered how engineers can create a purification system to clean large amounts of water efficiently. In 2013, Grimmett was the youngest author to publish her original research in the journal Environmental Quality.
Two other senior students; Kimberly Te and Christine Yoo, shared the $100,000 group project award at the 2015 Siemens competition for their discovery on how to clean up oil spills. The two 17-year olds designed an inexpensive device that uses a loofah sponge system to soak up oil, degrade hydrocarbons and then use the oil to produce clean energy that fuels remote power censors, ABC explains.
According to CBS News, the girls dedicated more than 1,500 hours of work and already have one patent pending and another one in the making. As Christine Yoo said:
"We've always been interested in environmental sciences, in the prevalent problems surrounding the environment, in microbial technologies. We wanted to see how much pollution there was in our water."
Allison Huenger, a science research specialist at the Manhasset Senior High School who supervised Yoo and Te's oil spill project, expressed her contentment that three young women won top prizes for their work at this year's Siemens Competition:
"It's absolutely empowering. It's great to see so many females interested in STEM," she told CBS News. "It's great to see these young women compete in a competition such as this."
Grimmett, who's planning to pursue STEM education in college, said she wasn't surprised that the top awards went all to young girls.
The Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, is a prestigious competition that recognizes and rewards young researchers throughout the nation's high schools. The 16th annual awards ceremony took place at The George Washington University.