An Indian American-led high school team from Oceanside, California-based Mission Vista High School was named the national winner of the grade 10-12 age group in the ExploraVision competition.
ExploraVision is considered among the largest K-12 STEM competition in the nation.
Sophomore Kainath Kamil led the Mission Vista team to victory in this year’s competition, which asks students to find solutions for real-world problems using science.
"It felt unreal," Kamil told India-West of his team being named the victors. "I was so surprised we won such a big competition but so glad that all that work paid off. I am very thankful for the professor who mentored me and my chemistry teacher for being my coach."
Kamil’s team devised a way to genetically modify the bacteria M. luteus to take in carbon dioxide and methane.
The bacteria would be implemented into factories, cars, and cattle farms in order to ease the effects of climate change, she said in an email to India-West.
She and her two teammates spent six months drafting a research paper on exactly how to do this, according to the student’s email.
Kamil emailed many professors for help and only one, a microbiology professor from U.C. Berkeley, responded to help, she said.
The professor gave Kamil and the team many resources to look at, such as areas for genetic modification and scholarly articles about different kinds of bacteria.
In February 2019, the Indian American student and her teammates submitted their entry. About a month later they got the unsuspecting news that they won the regionals and were moving onto the finals, she noted.
The California region they were in was the most competitive region in the competition, she asserted to India-West, adding that the team went against five other teams across North America.
As finalists, they had to create a website, a two-minute video, and a prototype, all in one month. Their resulting website can be seen here: https://nstawebdirector.wixsite.com/modifiedmluteus.
Kamil said they “noticed the competition was tough, but much to our surprise we won first place in the entire high school division.”
The Mission Vista team each won $10,000 in U.S. savings bonds and an awards weekend in Washington, D.C., where she met science celebrity Bill Nye; respected astronaut and former NFL player Leland Melvin; prominent figures in the National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba; and the offices of U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein of California. After presenting her project at the National Press Club and being on two TV channels, Kamil went back to work for the summer, she said.
Currently, the Indian American teen is conducting research at U.C. San Diego on biomedical science and wants to get her papers published when the summer is over.
Though she has just concluded her sophomore year of high school, Kamil has already worked in research regarding stem cells and neuroblastoma.
"I hope my big win can pave a way for my work to be recognized by a respected scientific journal," she told India-West.