An Indian American student from Minnesota who got his project idea during a visit to India has reached the finals of Discovery Channel's science talent hunt show Young Scientist Challenge.
Prithwis Mukhopadhyay, a ninth-grader at Lake Junior High in Woodbury, is one of the 40 finalists who will travel to Washington for the October 20-24 competition to present his research on banana peels as a source of biogas energy. He will compete in a series of team challenges.
The 14-year-old got the idea for his project a few years ago during his family's annual trip to India, Star Tribune newspaper reported. Biogas energy is common in Indian villages, with families extracting methane-based gas from cow manure.
For his project, Prithwis decided to see how much gas he could get from an alternate source.
He filled one airtight jar with manure and another with banana peels, mixing both with water and connecting each to an empty jar to collect gas. He set a heater fan at 80 degrees next to the jars, and measured the gas for 60 days.
Prithwis found that the banana peels yielded five times as much biogas as the manure, converting a pollutant into a clean energy source and leaving the leftover material for compost.
Back in the US, the study took him from regional and district science fairs to the state science fair last year and finally the project earned him a spot as one of the finalists in the competition.
Prithwis admitted that he was nervous but added that whatever the outcome, this probably would not be the end of his project.
Also, this isn't his first big academic endeavour.
He competed for a Davidson Fellows scholarship - awarded to profoundly intelligent students under 18 - last year, and is currently taking first-year calculus through the University of Minnesota Talented Youth Math Programme.
The teenager also volunteers at a Chicago Veterans Administration hospital, helping professors with their research work.