Spotlight on a Young Scientist: Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai

Editor's note: We're celebrating this year's impressive 20 Google Science Fair finalist projects over 20 days in our Spotlight on a Young Scientist series. Learn more about each of these inspiring young people and hear what inspires them in their own words.

Name: Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai

Home: Odisha, India

Age Category: 13-15

Project title: Absorbing water pollutants with corn cobs

Lalita was inspired to find a use for corn cobs, unused agricultural waste, during a conversation with a tribal farmer in a nearby village. Considering the prominence of water pollution in her country, she decided to use the cobs to improve water quality and ultimately provide access to healthier drinking water. She tested several different methods and found that corn cobs can absorb chemicals, detergents and other pollutants directly from the water. Lalita’s project goal is to provide more clean water for nearby villages. 

What was the inspiration behind your project? 

When I was in nursery school, I dressed up as a corn cob and won the prize for the Fancy Dress Competition. Since then, corn has been one of my favourite vegetables. I love roasted, grilled or steamed corn ears, and roasted corn on the cobs is a popular street food in India. Interestingly, all the parts of the corn plant except the actual cobs are useful. I’ve wondered for a long time how to make use of corn cobs. One day I made a hole at the centre of a cob using a screwdriver. Then I poured some dirty water inside the hole and collected the extract from the other end. Surprisingly, the collected extract was devoid of all the suspended particles. This inspired me to search, examine and experiment whether we could clean wastewater by using corn cobs. This could reduce waste by using another form of waste. Luckily, I was supported by my mentor to plan the project in detail and encouraged to participate in this year's Google Science Fair.
Lalita's interest in corn started from an early age
When and why did you become interested in science? 

I am the privileged eldest daughter of my father, who’s a science teacher. Very often he used to take me to the chemistry lab so that I could perform experiments with his students. My frequent visits to the lab packed with variously coloured chemicals attracted my attention since childhood. In my home, I learned how to get around the kitchen from my mother. To me, mixing, soaking, roasting, grinding and baking different ingredients of right proportion to get maximum taste, flavour, energy and above all satisfaction is based more on science than art. Both of my parents ignited my interest in science from a young age.

What words of advice would you share with other young scientists? 

Always observe your surroundings keenly. You never know what scientific breakthrough you may stumble upon.