From Science Fair to Better Wound Care: An Interview with GSF Award Winner Anushka Naiknaware

Anushka Naiknaware is an 8th-grader at Stoller Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon. She was the recipient of the LEGO Education Builder Award at the 2016 Global Google Science Fair, a prestigious, international STEM competition for students. Thirteen-year-old Anushka won this award for her innovative prototype of a printable biosensor for wound dressings that will cut down recovery time and prevent chronic wound care complications.

QUESTION: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What grade are you in, what’s your favorite school subject, and who or what inspires you?

ANSWER: My name is Anushka Naiknaware and I’m in 8th grade at Stoller Middle School. My favorite subject is a tie between math and science and my science idol is Marie Curie.


Q: Have you been an active participant in science fairs?

A: I’ve been participating in science fairs since kindergarten. In 6th grade, I was selected as a semifinalist for a science competition known as Broadcom MASTERS and was selected as one of the national finalists last year (2016). I won the first place STEM Award for Math as well as the Team Award at Broadcom.


Q: Can you tell me about your project? What was the question you aimed to answer and what made you want to learn more about this topic?

A: In school, I was studying anatomy for one of the competitions and stumbled across the topic of chronic wounds. Due to preexisting conditions such as diabetes, chronic wounds are difficult to treat and slow to heal. What really shocked me is that though chronic wounds are more prevalent than certain types of cancers in the US, not much research has been directed toward chronic wound care and current protocols are still fairly elementary. I dove deep into this topic and researched all I could. I realized that tracking the moisture levels of the wound might offer a breakthrough in wound care. If the moisture level of a chronic wound is in a specific range, then the wound would heal better. So I decided to design an inkjet-printable, biocompatible sensor that could measure the amount of moisture in a wound dressing. The sensor connects to a miniature wireless module which transmits the wound status continuously to a mobile phone. The status can be viewed on the phone at any time and can also be sent over the Internet to cloud-based services for remote monitoring. An audiovisual alert is also created when moisture levels reach a certain threshold. Instead of transmitting the status wirelessly, another inexpensive version of the module shows the status via an LED light.

Anushka designed and tested an innovative prototype of a printable biosensor for wound dressings.

Q: That’s incredible. What gave you this idea?

A: I have always had a passion for nanotechnology. I found that my previous research on carbon nanoparticles was relevant to my question regarding chronic wound care. I wanted to bridge these two areas of interest, so I designed a schematic to map out my idea for the biosensor. I developed G1 (Generation One) sensors as my preliminary run through and saw the logistical and structural issues as well as understood how sensitive my sensors were. Then, I designed another set of sensors rooted in a more mathematical set of parameters. I kept refining and retesting until I was able to create my final project and, even now, there’s a lot of work yet to be completed.


Q: How did you complete this project? Did you have any mentors? Did you use your own supplies? Were you provided with a lab?

A: My mentor was my 6th-grade science teacher, Ms. Svenson. She helped me to consider the logistics: the what and how of my project. But ultimately, I did this project on my own and, in fact, was able to do it all at home! Obviously, I couldn’t use bacterial pathogens because of school requirements, so I had to work with biocompatible components. I turned to inkjet printing technology for the creation of my sensors. I was motivated to create a biosensor that was inexpensive and accessible so that this technology could potentially help as many people as possible.


Q: What setbacks did you face while completing your project?

A: Honestly, quite a few. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to design the ink. The printer would either get clogged or the particles in the ink conglomerated, rendering it useless. Despite some difficulties, I kept going back to the drawing board and came up with solutions. I designed an apparatus to hold the sensors in place and used mathematical algorithms to control the sensors’ dimensions. Throughout the process, there were definitely times when I’d ask myself, Is this going to work? But whenever I had doubts, I’d take a break, walk away, and come back the next day with a positive attitude.


Q: How did you get involved in Google Science Fair (GSF)?

A: I actually found out about the competition online, and my science work at the time fit the theme—Everything is Better with Science. So on a whim, I decided to submit my project. I’m glad that I did!


Q: Tell me about your experience with GSF? What was the entire process like? Were there different rounds of the competition? Was there an in-school competition?

A: Well, there were no prequalifying fairs; anyone with a project and internet access could submit an application. When I saw my name on the list of global finalists I was like— Really, are you sure they didn’t make a mistake? I was so honored to get to go to the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. They had this awesome welcome dinner with all kinds of cool projects and props set up, like hamster balls and cotton candy machines! We set up our booths and heard questions from judges over a series of three days and, just like that, it came time for the awards show.


Q: Because this is an interview about you and your awesome achievements, we’re going to need you to brag a little bit! Tell me about what you won and the successes you’ve had with this project. What are your next steps with this project or with future research?

A: At Google Science Fair I won the Lego Education Award, one of the top 5 prizes offered. This entails a $15,000 scholarship, a trip to Denmark, and a year-long mentorship from Lego. I even get to present my project in front of Lego’s Board of Directors!


Q: Even though you’re young, you have already accomplished so much and it’s obvious that you will achieve so much more in your lifetime. Do you have any long-term career goals or aspirations?

A: I want to go to a top graduate school (MIT, Harvard, Stanford etc.) and it would be a dream come true to win a Nobel Prize. Ultimately, I want to influence the world using science and math.


Q: As an inspirational young female in STEM, you are breaking all sorts of barriers, especially for other females hoping to enter STEM fields. What advice would you give to aspiring young scientists, other females in STEM, or, broadly, anyone who’s doubting their abilities?

A: Whatever it is that you’re trying to do or you’re curious about, don’t be afraid to try! When I first began my project, I had a lot of people tell me that it might not work or that I wouldn’t be able to do what I did. You have to always believe in yourself and stay curious and passionate and not be afraid to make mistakes.


Q: Why should people care, not only about the advances, but also about the setbacks and even about the pursuit of learning in general? If you could leave a final takeaway message for all of the readers of this article, why do you think science is important?

A: Everything is explainable with science and everything we use is based on scientific principles. Simply, we cannot truly advance as a civilization without the help of science.

Image Credits:

All graphics were provided by Naiknaware Family.

Chief Editor: Aparna Ragupathi
Creative Team Coordinator: Sreya Das
Team Editor: Aparna Ragupathi

This article was written by Manasa Gadiraju. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cSw Editorial Staff