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13-Year-Old Wins Top Prize: Makes Wind Energy Device That Costs Just $5

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A 13-year-old student from Ohio won the top prize at the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge Tuesday for developing a cost-effective device that uses solar and wind power to create energy.

Grand prize winner Maanasa Mendu with 3M scientist mentor Margaux Mitera at the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in St. Paul, MN.Discovery Education

Maanasa Mendu, a ninth grader at William Mason High School in Ohio, said she was inspired by a visit to India where she discovered many people lacked basic life necessities such as clean water and lighting.

Mendu's initial idea harnessed only wind energy when she entered the competition. According to Business Insider, the leaves cost roughly $5 to make.

During the past three months, Mendu worked with Margaux Mitera, a 3M senior product development engineer, to develop a more advanced system that was inspired by how plants function. Mendu decided to create "solar leaves" that harnessed vibrational energy. Her "leaves" get energy from rain, wind and the sun, using a solar cell and piezoelectric material—the part of the leaf that picks up on the vibrations—and transforms it into usable energy, Business Insider said.

Besides being named "America's Top Young Scientist," Mendu won $25,000 for her invention.

"Each year, the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge reminds us of the inspiring ingenuity that results when we empower our youngest generation to apply science, critical-thinking and creativity to solve real-world problems," said Bill Goodwyn, president and CEO, Discovery Education.

The second, third and fourth place winners each received a $1,000 prize and a trip to a taping of a show on Discovery's family of networks for their inventions:

  • Rohan Wagh from Portland, Oregon, a ninth grader at Sunset High School in Beaverton School District, received second place for his innovation that utilizes the natural metabolism of bacteria to create energy.
  • Kaien Yang from Chantilly, Virginia, an eighth grader at Nysmith School for the Gifted, received third place for his innovation that uses pumpkin seed oil to create both a biodiesel and bioplastic that reduces emissions and pollution from plastic.
  • Amelia Day from Sumner, Washington, a ninth grader at Sumner High School in Sumner School District, received fourth place for her invention that uses sensory feedback to help rebuild neural connections inside of the brain during rehabilitation.

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