Wilton seventh grader pleasantly surprised by numerous science awards

Middlebrook seventh grader Anika Bhagavatula said winning best in fair at this year’s Middlebrook Science and Engineering Fair and numerous awards at the Connecticut State Science and Engineering Fair was a surprise.
“My dad has a Ph.D. in physics, my mom is also very scientific, and my grandpa was a scientist, so they’ve always kind of pushed science in my way,” she said.
“I wasn’t so interested, but this year, I started really getting into science and it all started off with the school Shark Tank Competition.”
In November, members of Middlebrook’s seventh grade green team completed a unit on Latin America with their own version of the ABC show Shark Tank. For the competition, groups or “organizations” of students conducted independent research, identified areas of economic abundance, and chose an abundance to develop into a product or experience that would increase the economic value of exports in a Latin American country and add jobs for its citizens.
Anika’s group made a tablet from banana skins designed to remove metals from drinking water and won the competition after accepting an offer for an equity investment of $400,000 for 20% of the company from the panel of shark investors.

Science fairs

Anika said she participated in last year’s Middlebrook Science and Engineering Fair but didn't win. This year, her social studies and science teachers suggested she use her Shark Tank project as the basis for her science fair project.
“When I learned about how bananas can purify water, I really wanted to test it,” said Anika. “The project took me a few weeks.”
For her project, Anika investigated an alternative purification method using banana peels. She formulated and tested copper-contaminated water and fertilizer- contaminated water to see whether banana peels are capable of removing heavy metals and fertilizers, which she proved to be extremely effective.
Anika spent about two or three weekends experimenting and another two weekends working on her board, for which, she said, “we had to make charts and graphs and everything.”
Anika said she “had no idea” she would win the Middlebrook Science and Engineering Fair but hoped she had a chance. After the third- and second-place winners were announced, Anika said, her hope began to fade — until her name was called for best in fair.

“When they announced best in fair, I was like, ‘I don’t think this is happening,’” she said. The surprises didn’t stop there.
Anika said she “really didn’t expect” to win at the state-level science fair in March but wound up taking home eight awards, including:

  • First place: Petit Family Foundation Women in Science & Engineering Award: Middle School Life Sciences.

  • First place: Environmental Sciences Award with CACIWC: Middle School.

  • First place: Sustainable Resources and Practices Award: Middle School.

  • Second place: Pfizer Life Sciences Award: Seventh Grade Life Sciences.

  • Second place: Alexion Biotechnology Award: Seventh Grade Biotechnology.

  • Special awards from the U.S. Navy/ U.S. Marine Corps Office of Naval Research, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the Connecticut Invention Convention Next Step Inventors.

“I really didn’t expect to win, because when I first walked in, I saw some high schoolers carrying these big boards that were filled with information and I was like, ‘OK, I don’t have a chance here at all,’” said Anika. “Then I set up my board and saw the projects were actually pretty similar to mine.”
When she was called back as a finalist, Anika saw a bunch of ribbons on her board, she said, “and I thought, ‘OK, my project qualifies for a lot of things so I have a chance of winning.’”
“Actually winning it, I was so surprised — but it was really exciting,” she said. “It was something I had never experienced in my life before.”
The Middlebrook and Connecticut State Science and Engineering Fairs may be the first science-related awards Anika has ever won, but she’s no stranger to placing in other competitions, including first place for printmaking in the Silvermine Art Center’s 24th Annual Juried Student Exhibition and second place for visual arts in the 2015 state level PTA Reflections Program.
“Now that I’ve had exposure to other people’s science projects and so many different aspects of science, I’ve learned that there are so many interesting things and so many ways to go in science,” she said, “and going to science fairs and winning has really opened a new door for me.”
Although joining a science-related club or after-school activity could be in her future, Anika said, her current schedule is quite packed, with swimming for the Wilton Wahoos, running for the Wilton Running Club, playing piano and clarinet, and drawing.
As for what she wants to be when she’s older, Anika said she doesn’t know. “I’m just trying new things.”