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Future Leaders winner uses science to solve problems across Colorado, world

Future Leaders winner uses science to solve problems across Colorado and the World
Future Leaders winner uses science to solve problems across Colorado and the World 03:19

CBS Colorado, along with Colorado School of Mines and Chevron, are proud to honor high school students who excel in the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and math. The Future Leaders Award comes with $1,000 prize, and a profile on CBS News Colorado.


The newest Future Leaders Award winner is Shreya Senthilkumar. She's a senior at Peak to Peak Charter School, and just may be one of the great problem solvers of her generation.

"I feel like I've always been very imaginative, even as a child, and I always come up with the weirdest ideas," Senthilkumar told CBS News Colorado.

Currently, Senthilkumar is part of a team of students who are tracking the growth and water retention of about 20 newly planted trees on the Peak to Peak campus.

"This past summer, a lot of the trees at our school died and that's because of the soil quality. Especially after the Marshall Fire, we found out that the soil is super dry and dehydrated," she explained.

Through the school's Innovation Lab, the students came up with the idea of mixing mycelium from mushroom plants into the soil to see if it would help retain moisture. Some of the trees are planted in untreated soil, some are planted in a compost which contains shredded cardboard, and some are planted in compost with the mycelium.


"We're still not making any conclusions yet because we're still collecting data, but we found that with our soil collections that the mycelium and the compost seem to be doing a lot better in terms of moisture retention," Senthilkumar revealed.

She and her classmates will be presenting their data at a Tree Summit in Fairview in April. Throughout high school, Senthilkumar has developed innovations and presented ideas for several national competitions including the "Samsung Solve for Tomorrow"education contest and the Conrad Innovation Challenge. The Innovation Lab really set her down this path.

"It ended up being a doorway to so many different opportunities and really discovering my passions, and how I can use that to change the world," she explained.

For one project, she developed a biodegradable, plastic-free, packaging system for computers.

"The original idea was to use a plant-based starch, and we decided on potato starch because we decided that would be a cheap material we could use," Senthilkumar said.

The students planned to create a foam out of the potato starch that would be used to insulate the computer.

"We research biomimicry at the time with the hexagonal pattern of a honey bee comb, and how that creates a compactness for the honey bee comb so the hive doesn't break or get damaged in various weather conditions, and so we wanted to imprint that into our foam," she said.

Another project used tobacco leaves as part of a water filtration system, so that tobacco farmers could move away from supplying cigarette makers and instead contribute to clean water. Another project centered around using UV light to detect the carcinogenic chemical, benzene, in drinking water after the Marshall Fire.

"Everything stems from empathy," she said. "Really pinpointing and understanding what exactly the issue is, who is effected, and what can be done to solve it."


For another project, Senthilkumar came up with a plan to bridge the digital divide in Colorado.

"Our idea was to create like an innovation center where we would have different curriculums or workshops for especially like younger children to help foster that STEM learning at a younger age," she explained.

That project led her to educate people worldwide about women's health. She and a friend started a menstrual equity non-profit. She packs up feminine hygiene products and sends them to women who have none.

"It's something that's very passionate for me, both in terms of access but just in terms of the stigma around women's reproductive health and menstruation," Senthilkumar said.

Senthilkumar is passionate about making the world a better place, and she's committed to innovating through science to do that.

"No matter what I do I want to have an impact."

LINK: Future Leaders Award

CBS Colorado is taking nominations for the Future Leaders Award through April 19, 2024. Nominate a high school student who excels at STEM by filling out the form at the above link.

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