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The Orlando Science Center Held Its Yearly Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition. The Result? Two High School Students Invented A Better Face Mask


The Orlando Science Center has just awarded $5,000 dollar college scholarships to two local high school students who designed a new and improved face mask.

The scholarships were part of the yearly Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition.

WMFE spoke with these students, Winter Springs High Junior Annika Vaidyanathan and Oviedo High Sophomore Ishika Nag, about how their masks will protect people during the pandemic and beyond. 

Read the full interview below. 

Danielle: Annika, you decided to focus on changing the coating of the mask. Is that right? And where did you get that idea from?

Annika: Yeah. So last year, I actually worked with a project that looked at hydrophobicity in terms of preventing, like common household spills. And then this year after seeing just like the spread of COVID-19, I was like, oh, maybe it's something that I could take my work in the past, and really rework it and really test different applications to specifically COVID-19. And that's what I did in this year's project and got this final result of the mask.

Danielle: So do you see other applications for this? Like, do you see people mass replicating this coating even like cheaply at home?

Annika: Yeah so something I really focused on was looking at how this can be implemented for this pandemic, the cost analysis was something I looked at, and that shows something that can be very cost effective and be implemented right now. And then, it can also be like, it doesn't only have to be for COVID-19, but it can also be for any airborne particles that are like lurking in the air. So obviously, pollutants in very pollutant cities, things like that.

Danielle: Ishika you focused more on the filtration system, is that right? And I guess you were inspired to do that on a trip to India?

Ishika: That's correct. The real inspiration for this project started really four years ago, when my friend who had moved from Berlin, Germany, to New Delhi, India, and this was like such a novel move for her. Because this not only was like a huge cultural change, but it was also a drastic change in air pollution and air quality. And I went to visit her in New Delhi. And I too was very surprised at how much her life had changed with that move. Because she would, she was sealing up her windows, she had installed a very high quality air filtration system in her house. So the real purpose behind my project was to enhance a normal, low cost filter to increase its filtration efficiency, and also keep it affordable for the people who really need it.

Danielle: So Annika, how did you have time to do all of this while going to school virtually in the middle of a pandemic?

Annika: It totally wasn't easy. These projects take such a long time, so many hours are put into my science fair this year. But science fair is something I feel very passionate about. And I've actually been doing it since sixth grade. So it's become something that's built into my life. Every year, I know, around of February, it's time to finalize my project, and it's just become something that's part of my life now.

Danielle: And Ishika, what would you say to other young people who are inventors who want to help out during the pandemic?

Ishika: I guess the first thing I would say that no contribution is too small, like whatever you're doing, even if it's just you know, making your own masks or helping spread COVID-19 awareness. You're still doing something really important. And I think that's really important to get out there. That nothing, nothing that you can do to help stop the COVID-19 spread is too small.
Listen to the full interview by clicking on the clip at the top.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.