Texas teen wins $25K for work on possible COVID-19 solution

While it might seem like the coronavirus is never going away, people are still working hard to find a way to treat it.

That includes one Texas teen, who just won $25,000 for her work on a possible solution for the virus. 14-year-old eighth-grader Anika Chebrolu of Frisco has won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her study on COVID-19.

Anika started working on ways to fight the flu for her project, but when the pandemic hit, her focus shifted to figuring out COVID-19. Her breakthrough could mean the beginning of a viable treatment for the virus.


14-year-old eighth-grader Anika Chebrolu of Frisco has won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her study on COVID-19. (3M)


Anika used in-silico methodology for drug discovery to find a molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to find a cure for COVID-19.

In her research, Anika screened millions of small molecules for drug-likeness properties, ADMET properties, and binding affinities against the spike protein using numerous software tools, says a release from 3M. The one molecule with the best pharmacological and biological activity towards the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was chosen as the lead molecule, which can be a potential drug for the effective treatment of COVID-19.

Due to the pandemic, for the first time in the history of the competition, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge showcased the top ten finalist projects and announced this year’s winner in a virtual event. Anika competed against nine other finalists in an interactive virtual competition.

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Anika Chebrolu of Frisco presents her project on COVID-19 during the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. (3M)

Each finalist was evaluated on a series of challenges and the presentation of their completed innovation. The young inventors – aged 12-14 – won the top ten spots in this year’s challenge through their innovative thinking, scientific acumen, and display of exceptional communication skills, says 3M.

Over the past few months, each finalist worked with a 3M scientist who worked one-on-one with each finalist to transform their idea from concept to physical prototype. Anika was paired with Dr. Mahfuza Ali, a 3M corporate scientist in the materials resource division and a recent Carlton Society inductee.

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In second place, Kyle Tianshi, an eighth-grader from San Diego, Calif., designed a portable Total Suspended Solids (TSS) device that detects invisible particles in water to monitor water quality and contamination levels.

In third place, Laasya Acharya, a seventh-grader from Mason, Ohio, utilized a neural network to detect crop diseases through image analysis.

As the grand prize winner, Anika received a $25,000 cash prize and the prestigious title of “America’s Top Young Scientist." The second and third place winners each received a $1,000 prize. Anika, Kyle, Laasya, and their mentors will also have the opportunity to ring the New York Stock Exchange Closing Bell in a virtual event on October 15. 

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As the grand prize winner, Anika received a $25,000 cash prize and the prestigious title of “America’s Top Young Scientist."  (3M)

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The fourth through tenth place winners each receive a $1,000 prize and a $500 excitations gift card. The finalists, in alphabetical order by last name, are:

  • Fifth-grader Xavier Baquero-Iglesias from Naples, Fla.
  • Eighth-grader Rithvik Ijju from Englewood, Colo.
  • Eighth-grader Ekansh Mittal from Beaverton, Ore.
  • Eighth-grader Harsha Pillarisetti from San Ramon, Calif.
  • Seventh-grader Samhita Pokkunuri from Old Bridge, N.J.
  • Seventh-grader Samvrit Rao from Ashburn, Va.
  • Eighth-grader Sophia Weiner from Rockledge, Fla.

For the second time in competition history, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge has named a recipient of the Improving Lives Award; the competition's public voting process recognizes one project from the top ten that has the potential to change the most lives. Anika was selected through an online public vote from Sept. 28 – Oct. 9.

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FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.