SJWP Alumnus Wins Big for Research

April 26, 2016

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Maria Elena Grimmett receives $100,000 for removing pharmaceuticals from water

Maria Elena Grimmett, competitor in the 2015 national Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) competition, received the $100,000 grand prize in the 2015 Siemens Competition in Math, Science, & Technology. Photo courtesy of Elena Olivo, Siemens Foundation (Munich).

Maria Elena Grimmett, competitor in the 2015 national Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) competition, received the $100,000 grand prize in the 2015 Siemens Competition in Math, Science, & Technology. Photo courtesy of Elena Olivo, Siemens Foundation (Munich).

In 2013 at the age of 14, Maria Elena Grimmett made history when she became the youngest person published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. The achievements of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) competition alumnus’ continue to accumulate. In December, she won the $100,000 grand prize in the individual category of the 2015 Siemens Competition in Math, Science, & Technology, according to a Siemens (Munich) news release.

Grimmett, a high school senior attending the Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches (Palm Beach, Fla.), has loved science for many years. “We began science fair projects in third grade, and it became my favorite annual activity,” she said.

Grimmett began working on water science in sixth grade. She has used her home as a laboratory to remove first tannins and then pharmaceuticals from water. Photo courtesy of Grimmett.

Grimmett began working on water science in sixth grade. She has used her home as a laboratory to remove first tannins and then pharmaceuticals from water. Photo courtesy of Grimmett.

In sixth grade, Grimmett began working on a project to determine why her well water was brown. For the project, she removed the color, or tannins, from water using anion-exchange resins. At the county science fair, Grimmett noticed another project showing pharmaceutical pollution in the Florida Everglades, which inspired her to try to fix the problem, she said.

“I decided to use resins to remove pharmaceuticals from water,” Grimmett said. After conducting background research, she decided to test using different types of hyper-crosslinked adsorbents to remove the drug, sulfamethazine, from contaminated water. Sulfamethazine, a veterinary antibiotic used in agriculture, has been found as a contaminant in surface and groundwater around the world, she said. She began this research in 2010, presenting it as her seventh-grade science fair project.

Grimmett found the resin Purolite MN250 to be effective at removing the veterinary antibiotic, sulfamethazine, from water. Photo courtesy of Grimmett.

Grimmett found the resin Purolite MN250 to be effective at removing the veterinary antibiotic, sulfamethazine, from water. Photo courtesy of Grimmett.

In her studies, Grimmett found that the resin Purolite MN250 is extremely effective at removing sulfamethazine from water. She found that contaminants stick to the surface of the polymer resins, which are small plastic beads approximately 0.5 mm in size, leaving water free of antibiotics.

“The plastic beads had a high capacity to remove sulfamethazine from water in a wide range of environmentally realistic situations,” she said. “The beads can be reused thousands of times, making them cost effective and eco-friendly, and [can be applied] at any scale.”

Grimmett has been able to use a mass spectrometer to expand her research. Photo courtesy of Grimmett.

Grimmett has been able to use a mass spectrometer to expand her research. Photo courtesy of Grimmett.

Grimmett’s study, “Removal of Sulfamethazine by Hypercrosslinked Adsorbents in Aquatic Systems,” was published January 2013 in the Journal of Environmental Quality. “Ever since, I have been working toward field applications by investigating the remediation performance across different operating conditions,” according to Grimmett’s SJWP research paper.

In 2012, Grimmett’s research suggested that humic acid, or dissolved plant matter, could act as a carrier for pharmaceutical adsorption onto MN250. By 2015, she had designed and carried out batch adsorption studies investigating the capacity and kinetics of humic acid adsorption directly on to the surface of the synthetic adsorbent, she said.

Grimmett represented Florida at the 2015 national SJWP competition. Photo courtesy of AOB Photo.

Grimmett represented Florida at the 2015 national SJWP competition. Photo courtesy of AOB Photo.

Grimmett and her ongoing research were chosen to represent Florida at the 2015 national SJWP competition. “I wanted to have the chance to meet other researchers interested in environmental science,” she said.

“The best part of the SJWP competition was speaking to the judges,” Grimmett said. “The SJWP judges were very knowledgeable, had insightful questions, and were encouraging. It is fun to speak with highly trained professionals interested in my area of research.”

Participating in the 2015 SJWP competition allowed Grimmett the opportunity to speak with other researchers interested in her work. Photo courtesy of AOB Photo.

Participating in the 2015 SJWP competition allowed Grimmett the opportunity to speak with other researchers interested in her work. Photo courtesy of AOB Photo.

Now that Grimmett meets the age requirements to work in a professional lab, she is looking forward to expanding her research. She is considering examining the adsorption performance of MN250 with competing organic contaminants, developing regeneration protocols using suitable solvents, and using column breakthrough curves to define bed-depth and flow-rate parameters. “I will be excited to use the liquid chromatography – mass spectrometry to characterize these factors,” she said.

During the past several years, Grimmett has presented her research at 14 different professional scientific meeting and conventions and had the opportunity to speak to scientists interested in water remediation. While she won’t be able to return to SJWP because of other commitments, she plans on continuing to participate in other science competitions.

Since she began her research, Grimmett has presented her research at 14 different professional scientific meeting and conventions and has been featured in more than 100 news articles and television broadcasts. Photo courtesy of AOB Photo.

Since she began her research, Grimmett has presented her research at 14 different professional scientific meeting and conventions and has been featured in more than 100 news articles and television broadcasts. Photo courtesy of AOB Photo.

In addition to the 2015 SJWP and Siemens competitions, she participated in the 2015 Palm Beach Regional Science and Engineering Fair. In 2016, she plans on participating in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair as well as the Davidson Fellows program, she said.

Grimmett’s long list of achievements include winning the

  • 2014 Emerging Leader Award from the American Chemical Society;
  • Broadcom MASTERS 2012 Mathematics first place award;
  • third place award in environmental sciences at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2013, 2014, and 2015;
  • grand prize at the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair in 2011 as well as Environmental Science category awards at the fair including first place in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015; second place in 2013; and third place in 2010; and
  • grand prize at the Palm Beach Regional Science and Engineering Fair in 2011, 2012, and 2014 as well as first place in environmental science at the fair 2009 through 2014.

Grimmett also has spoken during a Discovery Education “Change Makers” webcast and has been featured in more than 100 articles and features in newspapers, magazines, editorials, and television broadcasts. She has received 10 letters of commendation from the U.S. and Florida government. And in 2011, MIT Lincoln Laboratory even named minor planet 27410 as Grimmett, to honor her research.

Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

Highlights Series Showcases Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competitors Achievements

Since the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) began in 1997, student competitors have gone on to have impressive careers and make notable contributions to research and the water sector. Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Highlights will feature some of the most notable of these achievements in an ongoing series found by the keyword SJWPShowcase.

Can’t wait? Find more information about SJWP alumni on WEF’s Where-are-they-now webpage.

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