She was the youngest writer to have an article published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. She earned the first-ever perfect score in the long-running Palm Beach County Science and Engineering Fair. And in 2011, while still in the eighth grade, Maria Elena Grimmett’s outstanding research put her in a league with science legends George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein: MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories named a heavenly body after her!
Minor Planet 27410 Grimmett orbits the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but the Florida teen’s work focuses on a commodity unique to Earth: water.
According to a 2013 interview with the digital news magazine TakePart, she first became curious about what kind of bad stuff gets into our groundwater because she lives next to a golf course, where pesticides are regularly used on the grass.
Her dad, Michael, told TakePart that Maria Elena’s passion convinced him and her mom to support her experiments. They bought chemicals and equipment for her, and he took her to a national water convention so she could learn more.
Maria Elena’s recent, award-winning research focuses on how antibiotics given to livestock get into groundwater … and how to get them out. She noted in a study that 400 tons of the drug sulfamethazine are fed to North American livestock each year, primarily to promote fast growth. But most of it also ends up polluting the environment and — say many scientists — reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics on humans.
Her investigations found that a substance called MN250 could be useful for removing the sulfamethazine, because it sticks tight to the drug at a molecular level.
Though she’s only in high school, Maria Elena already has a long history of loving science, thanks to an encouraging teacher she had in third grade. “I really got hooked on science,” she told TakePart, because it is a way to “solve difficult problems and help the world.”
And sometimes, to get other worlds named after you!