STEM & STEAM Education

2021 Young Scientist Challenge Winners Named

Artificial intelligence and machine learning figured into this year's top two entries for the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a middle school science competition sponsored by 3M and Discovery Education.

Ten finalists were selected from one- to two-minute video submissions in which they described a new invention or solution that could solve or influence an everyday problem affecting them, their families, their communities or the world. This year's challenge brought the finalists together virtually over two days. Each competitor was evaluated in a series of scored challenges and the final presentation of their innovation. They were assessed, according to organizers, on their "innovative thinking, scientific acumen and exceptional communication skills."

Over the past several months, finalists also worked with a 3M scientist who mentored and worked one-on-one with them to help them turn their ideas into prototypes. Sarah, for example, was paired with Ann Fornof, a senior research specialist in the adhesives division at 3M.

Top winner Sarah Park, now an eighth-grader in Jacksonville, FL, developed Spark Care+, a music therapy treatment for mental health disorders that uses AI, galvanic skin response (GSR) for sweat gland response, and photoplethysmography (PPG) for heart rate monitoring. Sarah said she envisions the development of personalized wristbands with her invention for use by anyone seeking improved mental health.

As the grand prize winner, Sarah received $25,000, a two-day trip and the title "America’s Top Young Scientist."

Fourteen-year-old Samarth Mahapatra from Marietta, GA took second place and was also named winner of the "Improving Lives Award," chosen through public voting as the solution with the greatest potential to make a positive impact on the world. Samarth’s project, "Accessibility Friendly Guidance System for Optimal Cooking Operations based on Machine Learning," was inspired by a family member who had to give up cooking due to glaucoma-induced blindness. The project uses advance vision algorithms to help people with vision limitations "cook with ease."

"The 3M Young Scientist Challenge aligns with 3M’s commitment to fostering the next generation of science leaders and exemplifies how a quality STEM education can get young people interested and excited about science as a way to improve lives all around the world," said Denise Rutherford, chief corporate affairs officer at 3M, in a statement. "Against the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic, the... finalists have each shown how grit, determination, resiliency, innovative thinking and the scientific process come together to create truly incredible innovations with the potential to address major global challenges. 3M is inspired by these young inventors, and we celebrate their accomplishments."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.