Scottsdale middle schooler takes her science project to Washington

WASHINGTON – When Scottsdale middle schooler Akshaya Venkatesh saw how much food was being wasted after meals at her temple, she went looking for a solution – and found one that she wants to put in our pockets.

“I thought I could incorporate an app and this food waste idea into one thing,” said Akshaya this weekend, as she showed off the app she developed that helps organizations with left-over food connect with groups that need it.

The app developed by the Basis Scottsdale eighth-grader landed her a spot as one of 30 finalists in Washington for the 2018 Broadcom MASTERS – Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars – competition, winnowed down from more than 2,500 middle school students who entered from 35 states.

The competition, now in its eighth year, aims to inspire young inventors and scientists “who will solve the grand challenges of the future,” according to its website. In addition to showing off their inventions at an event at the National Geographic Society, the finalists meet with government officials and engage in competitions over four days in Washington.

In addition to competing for thousands of dollars of awards in various categories, all the finalists get $500 plus a trip to Washington and their schools get $1,000 to use toward STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – activities.

“We are really thrilled and proud of all these young people who are trying to solve the world’s most intractable problems,” said Maya Ajmera, the president and CEO of the Society for Science and the Public, which sponsors the competition the Broadcom Foundation.

The finalists – 14 girls and 16 boys – represented 28 schools in 14 states, including nine from California.

Akshaya was the only Arizona finalist this year, but she’s not the first from the state – or even from her school. Last year, Basis Scottsdale eighth-grader Arjun Moorthy was a finalist for his development of an app that helped people develop habits of protecting themselves with sunscreen.

Akshaya’s work was displayed along with projects that ranged from a robotic tennis ball sorter to antifungal treatments of ailments to a system to detect microplastics in the sea.

Akshaya had attended a coding camp that helped her make the app a reality, a pocket-sized solution that lets a person who has too much food – from a garden or pantry or wherever – can enter what they have and where they are. Food organizations can then search the app to find what they need.

She said local tests of her app went well, but she hopes it can help communities everywhere organize and distribute their leftover food items.

“World hunger is a huge problem in the world right now, people don’t realize what a big problem it is and they just waste food and they just throw out food like it’s nothing,” she said.

While the competition is about solving challenges faced by the planet, organizers said it’s just as much about the students themselves.

“We hope as middle school students that events like this just give them the confidence to continue those passions into high school and beyond,” said Raeva Ramadorai, program manager for the competition.

Akshaya said she plans to do just that.

“Kids, they think that science fairs are stupid, some kids think like, ‘Oh, how do you have time to do science fairs?’ If it can get you this far, then you should do it every year,” she said. “And going from a school fair to here is kind of amazing.”

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