Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kids! Interview with Meghana Bollimpalli

By Victoria Feng, Editor-in-Chief

 

Under the mentorship of her advisors, college professors, Meghana Bollimpalli used tea powder, molasses, tannin, and other chemicals that could create an electrode used for supercapacitors- only for under $1.  These supercapacitors can be used in a variety of electronic devices.  For her invention, Meghana has been awarded at many science fairs, most notably the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to research about supercapacitors?

Meghana Bollimpalli (MB): I first got involved with science research in middle school after witnessing numerous deaths from waterborne illnesses in rural communities in India that were facing a water crisis. Wanting to help solve the issue, I designed water filters and mailed them back to India to be distributed within the communities. Upon receiving letters of gratitude from the residents, I knew that I had found my passion. I was thrilled at the idea of using my research to make a real change in the world. Ever since then, I have continued to do research in the environmental science field. I pick a different topic within environmental science to focus on every year. This year, I decided to focus on the growing energy demand. I first heard about supercapacitors at a seminar on energy storage and learned that they were better than batteries, could store a lot of energy, and were used in lifesaving technology like defibrillators. When I discovered that their applications were severely limited due to the four-thousand-dollar platinum electrodes used in their development, I was determined to replace the platinum with something cheaper to cut the cost of production. I started researching ways to cut the cost of production and after ten months of research, I found that combining common substances like tea powder, molasses, and tannin with small amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen could produce an electrode that costs less than $1.

AK: What was the most challenging part of the project?

MB: The most challenging part of this project was trying to figure out the next step. One thing that is common between all disciplines of research is the fact that you are never going to get the answer on the first try. Despite how detailed your initial plan or procedure is and despite how sure you are that your first idea will work, in the end, it never does. The final answer is often what you least expected and there are many twists in the middle. For this project, I was trying to find an eco-friendly and inexpensive alternative to a versatile material like platinum. I was trying to do something that no one had ever done before so I didn’t have that much to rely on when I started. The first four months of this research, I had no results and no indication of success. I had to go back to the drawing board countless times and try to find new ways to approach the problem. The trial and error was definitely the hardest part of this project.

AK: What do you view as your greatest accomplishment?

MB: I consider my biggest accomplishment to be finding my passion. A lot of my friends and classmates don’t really have an idea of what they want to yet. I am really fortunate to have found something that I love this much at such an early age. My research isn’t about the fact that I was recognized at the biggest science fair in the world, or the fact that I was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list at 17. It is about how I found my passion through science research. It is about how I discovered what I want to do as a career. I think that all of the awards, recognition, and accomplishments are just a result of me doing what I love.

AK: When you’re not working on researching, what other activities do you enjoy doing?

MB: I love art and photography. I travel often, and I take pictures of landscapes and architecture. I then come back and paint those pictures. I am going to Greece this summer and I am really excited about it. I also love playing the piano and the violin. Painting, sculpting, playing music are all ways that I relax after a stressful day at school. Besides that, I am also involved in many clubs and organizations at school. I founded the Little Rock Central High School Science Fair Workshop Series (SFWS). SFWS is a series of classes held throughout the year to help Pre-AP and AP science student do independent research. During the summer between my junior and senior years, a lot of students reached out to me for help with their science fair projects. However due to the volume of requests for help, I couldn’t address everyone’s questions. To fix that, I started this program and gave students an academic environment in which they could bounce ideas of one another and find their interests.

AK: If you could change any single thing in the world, what would you change?

MB: If I could change any single thing, I would make access to a good education easier for everyone. A good education allows people to think critically and creatively which ultimately leads to innovation and development around the world. Education is a pillar of development and yet according to the United Nations, 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills. Factors like lack of access to funding, lack of access to learning materials, discrimination among people with disabilities and certain restrictions due to gender are among some barriers to the access to a good education. If I could change any one thing, I would make it to where everyone around the world had access to a quality education.

AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?

MB: One of my favorite quotes is: “If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough.” When I first started doing research, I didn’t have access to a sophisticated laboratory. I was 13 years old when I first started but I didn’t let my age deter me in my interest in pursuing research. When I first started doing research, I didn’t like that I might have to initially fail to get to that eventual success. I didn’t like that I wasn’t understanding every single thing I was reading in academic science journals. But despite this, I stuck with it and persevered because doing research made me feel alive. My advice to everyone is to find your passion and persevere to make your dreams come true. It is ok to stumble and fall on the way because the path to achieving your dreams isn’t easy.

AK: What are your goals for the future?

MB: I hope to attend a top university with a great undergraduate research program and double major in chemistry and economics and minor in environmental science.  Although I haven’t chosen a specific career yet, I would like my career to include both the STEM field and business. I think that economics and STEM field are closely related. This is a connection that I discovered through my research in science. When you design a product or material, you must also consider how that material will affect the economy. You have to consider who the stakeholders are, who the market it, how much it costs, and how it will affect the economy. This is why I am particularly interested in both of these fields and finding a job with both elements. My ultimate goal is to find a career in which I am both happy and successful. In terms of my direct future, I plan to continue doing talks and speeches around Arkansas about my research and the importance of a strong K-12 STEM education, which is something I am a strong advocate for.

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