Local student earns accolades for science project

Courtesy of Maya Shukla
Los Altos student Maya Shukla, right, and her Harker School classmate Aarzu Gupta present their science project on the dangers of e-cigarettes.

After placing first at the Santa Clara County Synopsys Championship and earning several awards at the California State Science Fair, a Los Altos student’s science project reached the semifinal round of the Broadcom MASTERS national science competition last month.

Los Altos resident Maya Shukla, a freshman at The Harker School in San Jose, partnered with classmate Aarzu Gupta on the project “A Test of the Mutagenic and Carcinogenic Potential of Nicotine-Free Electronic Cigarette Additives.”

After recognizing the rise in youth vaping as an alternative to smoking, Shukla said she wanted to prove that even with nicotine-free products, vaping is still dangerous.

Shukla and Gupta’s research confirmed that the use of electronic cigarettes, or vaping devices, is increasing. In 2013-2014, the National Youth Tobacco Survey reported a boost in the number of middle schoolers who vape, from 120,000 to 450,00; in high schools, the growth was even more drastic – from 660,000 to 2 million.

By studying the ingredients in e-cigarettes, Shukla and Gupta proved that nicotine-free e-juices can be just as harmful as ones that contain nicotine.

“People use vaping as a way to get off smoking and think, ‘I can continue to do it because it’s nicotine-free,’” Shukla said. “It can still lead to lung cancer, so we wanted to show them that.”

As eighth-graders, Shukla and Gupta placed first in the biomedical engineering category in the regional Synopsys science fair. In the California State Science Fair, the pair earned the Clinical Chemistry Award and a second place award from the UCLA Brain Research Institute.

At the Broadcom MASTERS competition, the project reached the semifinal round – the top 300 projects out of approximately 6,000 submitted.

Shukla, a member of a science research club at The Harker School, completed the project with a budget of $100.

“I’ve always been really interested in science, mainly biology and medicine,” she said. “I really enjoy helping other people.”

She hopes to study biomedical technology in the future, and added that girls should be more interested in science.

Shukla and Gupta are already busy with their next science project as this year’s Synopsys science fair deadline approaches. This time the pair plan to tackle natural antibiotics.

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