Frisco teenager wins award for her pursuit in researching COVID-19

Posted at 9:32 AM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 10:32:12-04

FRISCO, TX — Independence High School freshman Anika Chebrolu has been named the winner of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and earned the Improving Lives Award for her pursuit in searching for a cure to COVID-19.

With her award, Chebrolu earned the title America’s Top Young Scientist. Chebrolu was recognized for her innovative thinking, scientific acumen and display of exceptional communication skills.

In her study, Chebrolu discovered a molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2. Binding and inhibiting this viral protein would potentially stop the virus' entry into the cell, creating a viable drug target.

In her research, Chebrolu screened millions of small molecules for drug-likeness properties, ADMET properties and binding affinities against the spike protein using numerous software tools. 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 that can be a potential drug for the effective treatment of COVID-19.

Chebrolu began work on her project last school year when she was an eighth-grader at Nelson Middle School.

“Nighthawk Nation is so proud of Anika, who was always a standout student at Nelson,” Principal Mitzi Garner said. “She pursued new heights in and out of the classroom by taking risks, challenging herself, helping others and working to have a positive impact in every facet of her life.

“This amazing recognition is well deserved and just a sneak peek into the positive impact that Ms. Chebrolu will have on our society. Anika is the quintessential definition of future-ready and I am eager to see all that she will accomplish.”

Chebrolu was selected over the summer as a top-ten nationwide finalist in the 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Challenge, regarded as the nation’s premier middle school science competition. As a finalist, she worked with 3M Corporate Scientist Dr. Mahfuza Ali, who mentored Chebrolu one-on-one throughout the summer. Together, they transformed her idea from concept to reality.

Dr. Ali helped Anika perfect her innovation through the scientific method, and Chebrolu presented her project to a judging panel of scientists and leaders. Each finalist was evaluated on a series of challenges and the presentation of their completed innovation.

“Our heartfelt congratulations go to this year’s winner, Anika Chebrolu,” said Denise Rutherford, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs at 3M. "Amidst the challenges of a global pandemic, quality STEM education for all has become an even more urgent need.”

As the grand prize winner, Chebrolu received a $25,000 cash prize, the prestigious title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” and a special destination trip. "I am extremely humbled at being selected America's Top Young Scientist as all of the finalists had amazing projects and were extremely well-rounded individuals," Chebrolu said. "Science is the basis of life and the entire universe and we have a long way to go understand it fully."

Chebrolu hopes to one day become a medical researcher and professor. Click here to learn more about her and the award.