- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. In the 29 years he has been teaching high school science, Ed Rohde has seen a lot of smart youths, but 17-year-old Kavita Shukla is off the charts.
"One word: Awesome," Mr. Rohde said of the Centennial High School graduate who holds U.S. patents for two inventions, including an antibacterial food packaging paper made from the fenugreek plant.
The teen-ager's scientific prowess earned her this year's Lemelson-MIT Program apprenticeship award an all-expense paid trip to study with a leading scientist in any field.
Kavita chose David Payton, a robotics expert who specializes in complex and cooperating systems. The mentorship, which began yesterday and ends June 14 at the Information Sciences Lab at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., will explore the idea of how a swarm of individual robots can work in a team to achieve a common goal.
"Her inquiries into fenugreek show a lot of aptitude in scientific inquiry," said Mr. Payton, who volunteered to be a mentor for the program. "My goal is for her to learn something about the different ways you have to think about systems with large numbers of interacting entities."
The prestigious award came as no surprise for Mr. Rohde, who has written more than 20 letters of recommendation for Kavita for various academic awards.
"Of course, she got them all," Mr. Rohde said.
That's not because she can rattle off complex equations. She can't. What makes her successful is a combination of compassion and raw intelligence, he said.
"She's the total package," Mr. Rohde said. "I've taught bright kids. I've taught dedicated kids. I've taught kids that like to do lab work, kids that like to do book work She's everything rolled up in one. Decibel reading: Off the charts."
Born in Germany to Indian parents, Kavita spent her early childhood in India. She developed the antibacterial food packaging paper during a trip back to India five years ago after she accidentally gulped some unsafe water while brushing her teeth.
"My grandmother gave me yellow curry powder. She said 'Take this, and you'll be fine,'" Kavita said. "I was really skeptical. I didn't think it would work. But I didn't get sick."
She discovered the main ingredient in the powder was fenugreek.
"That really sparked my interest," she said.
Through her research, she found that fruits and vegetables wrapped in fenugreek-treated paper lasted four to six weeks longer than food protected by traditional wrapping.
"Fenugreek paper could change the lives of thousands maybe millions of people in Third World countries," said Kavita, who was granted a patent in April.
Kavita, who is also accomplished in classical Indian dance and violin, received her first patent when she was 13 for "Smart Lid," a lab-safety device for bottles containing hazardous materials.
"As long as I can remember, I've been inventing things random, crazy inventions," she said. In the third grade, "I built a Mars lander out of a soda bottle."
Besides spending time on her projects, Kavita is also the co-founder and CEO of a nonprofit, student-run water-testing company that operates in partnership with Columbia-based W.R. Grace. The company, called SAFEH2O, is staffed by 55 students and has tested more than 450 residential water samples in the Baltimore region. The purpose is to alert residents about problems such as excessive lead or impurities.
Kavita will enroll at Harvard University in the fall.
Her next project will be writing a book with her sister, a business graduate student at Stanford University, to show other young scientists how to conduct independent research.
"My big hope is to inspire other young scientists," she said.


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