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Riya Chandra selected as semi-finalist in Science competition

By Miriam G. Mazliach

“What are little girls made of?” is a familiar adage. While the traditional response is that of, “sugar and spice and everything nice,” that description certainly applies to Riya Chandra, with the addition of “science savvy” and now “Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge” semi-finalist.

Riya who will be entering the 6th grade and turning 11 this month, was recently selected for the science honor, chosen from thousands of young students across the nation.

“My mom woke me up to tell me the news, and I was really excited,” said Riya, after being contacted on July 13 and informed that she was one of the semi-finalists.

For the “12th annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge,” 47 middle school students were selected, one per state, with Riya as the sole semi-finalist from California.

This premier science competition for middle school students, targets them at the age when research indicates their interest in science may begin to fade. So, it is essential to encourage scientific exploration opportunities, such as those found in this science challenge.

To enter the competition Riya was required to submit a two-minute video on one of the four designated topics: preventing the spread of germs/disease, food safety, sun protection or wind resistant structures.

Because she had previously researched the topic of germs in the 4th grade, where she won First Place at her school’s (Mission San Jose Elementary’s) Science Fair, Riya decided to build upon her past findings for this challenge.

Beginning her research, she tested a variety of objects to determine germ levels and to search for things that could prevent their proliferation. “Such a cool topic,” Riya commented.

Using Q-tips, Riya rubbed the following items: a shopping cart handle, water fountain handle, refrigerator handle, public bathroom door and computer mouse.

Then to determine their germ levels, she tested each item by first coating a layer of agar (sugar-based gel) in a Petri dish, and rubbing it with the contaminated Q-tip from the various test items.

As for the Petri dish-tested items, the shopping cart handle exhibited an overwhelming number of germs in comparison to the computer mouse.

During her scientific investigation, one of the most interesting facts Riya unearthed was that copper had been used by the ancient Egyptians to cure illness, and appeared to kill most bacteria. To test that premise, she wrapped a pencil in copper wire. It turned out to have the lowest amount of germs, but did not totally negate all of them.

Perhaps that experiment was the impetus behind her family’s trip to Egypt this past December!

Riya enjoyed the problem and solution aspect of her project. “Mostly, I learned that I better wash my hands a lot more, especially after touching shopping cart handles.”

Once her research was completed, Riya looked online, to get an idea of past years’ submissions. She felt some seemed a bit boring, and wanted to create a more interesting, educational and humorous video.

With her information gathered, she wrote a script and began her video entitled, “Fighting the Germs.” It took a couple of months to create, working on it a little bit each day prior to emailing her completed project to by the May 27 deadline.

A panel of judges reviewed and evaluated all the video entries for content and creativity, before announcing the 47 semi-finalists.

Semifinalists each will receive: a $250 check, contest certificate, and a Young Scientist Challenge T- shirt. In addition, the student’s school and teacher will be given a contest plaque.

In the meantime, Riya is waiting to hear if she has been chosen to continue on in the competition. Judges are currently reviewing all the 47 semi-finalists’ entries and in mid-August will announce the top 10 students selected.

In October, these finalists will then be flown to New York City to compete in a series of live challenges. The winner receives a $50,000 U.S. Savings Bond ($25,000 cash value), the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” and a trip to St. Paul, Minnesota to learn from 3M’s top scientists and visit the 3M Innovation Center.

Riya says she would love that opportunity. Let’s all wish her the best of luck.

For more information on the “Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge,” go to

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