Mosquito Repellent Project Wins Ruchi Shah a $25K Scholarship

North senior continuing to rack up honors on her way to the prestigious Scholars for Medicine Program at Stony Brook.

Sachem North senior Ruchi Shah has once again been honored for her creation and development of an all-natural mosquito repellent. 

And it's certainly no small honor...Shah will receive a $25,000 scholarship after being named a National AXA Achiever, one of just 10 in the nation.

"I felt a mixture of joy, awe, and gratitude," Shah said of how she felt when she found out she had won the scholarship, which is sponsored by AXAEquitable Life Insurance Company and U.S. News & World Report.

"I couldn't have dreamed of such an amazing opportunity," Shah added. "It is truly such an honor to have my work recognized and to be selected as one of the leaders of tomorrow."

Shah has been collecting achievements throughout her high school career, including being selected to the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University last year, where she ground-breaking research on cervical cancer biomarkers. She recently qualified (for a third straight year) for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for that project focusing on improving cervical cancer diagnosis.

Jaime Bhalla, who supervised Shah's mosquito repellant project at North, said Shah "is a student a teacher dreams of mentoring--a student who comes around once in 30 years."

"She is more than just brilliant at academics, most notably, science; hardworking, dedicated, and benevolent are short of describing the person Ruchi is," Bhalla said. "On a personal level, Ruchi is also the most caring, compassionate, and benevolent person I have ever known."

Shah is heading back to Stony Brook in the fall to attend its Scholars for Medicine Program. Shah was accepted to the medical school as well as the undergraduate school, one of just eight students selected nationwide.

Shah plans on double majoring in biology with an ecosystem focus and journalism. She said potential careers include medical correspondence and pediatrics.

Speaking of journalism, Shah may need to teach the class. When Patch emailed her a few questions on the mosquito project and where it may be headed, here is Shah's response (We are not editing it, because frankly we can't write any better):

I still remember the unbearably hot sun, the beeping rickshaws, and the sticky clothes on my back as I walked into a clinic three years ago on a trip to India.

My loving uncle was diagnosed with dengue fever and I will never forget the look of pain in his eyes. But more than that, I will never forget seeing the long line of people outside of a tiny clinic waiting to get treatment for mosquito transmitted diseases. These diseases, ranging from dengue fever and malaria to West Nile virus and yellow fever, are the cause of millions of deaths worldwide, yet control methods have become a dilemma due to the development of resistance by mosquitoes and increased concern about health and environmental hazards.    

I desperately wanted to help the people I saw and was inspired to meet the need for improved mosquito control. However, I realized that it would be extremely difficult to give direct aid to every mosquito clinic. Rather, I decided to create a new mosquito repellent that would be able to impact the global community.             

As a high school sophomore, I had limited resources and faced a myriad of challenges. Therefore, a clear plan was vital. Using scientific literature and first-hand experiences, I created a timeline with goals for each month. While I faced some obstacles, the timeline allowed me to stay concentrated on my target.

First, my focus was to determine the attractive compounds in human sweat. Working in my garage, I custom built a mosquito test chamber, created artificial perspiration with varied concentrations of ingredients, and after innumerable hours of testing and analyzing data, was able to discover the role of ammonia in the attraction of mosquitoes to humans. My research earned me a coveted place at Intel ISEF; yet my mission felt unfinished.            

Using the results from the previous year as impetus, I extended my timeline and altered my goal, which became to create an affordable all-natural mosquito repellent. After experimenting with fruit juices and plant extracts, and failing multiple times, I created a recipe that showed great promise. Working with school officials, I submitted an IRB and independently organized sweat collection days to collect samples from athletes.  

These samples initially attracted up to 10 mosquitoes each, but after I sprayed my repellent on only one sample, the mosquitoes were completely repelled. Repeating my experiment with over 50 mosquitoes for each group, my results were consistent in proving the effectiveness of my repellent. My repellent is effective because of its innovative dual effects: neutralizing attractive components and masking the scent of perspiration.

Besides its effectiveness, my repellent is all-natural and will not lead to environmental or bodily harm. My second goal was to make sure that my repellent was cost effective so that it would be accessible to a global population. My repellent, including marketing and bottling costs, is over 91 percent cheaper than commercial repellents.            

That year, I saw Intel ISEF as an opportunity to spread awareness and I spent my time speaking to judges, students, fellow finalists, and the public, informing them of the prevalence of mosquito transmitted diseases. When I returned home, the countless phone calls, letters, and e-mails that I received from people throughout the world assured me that my efforts had made an impact.

While many people were interested in my product, even more people were spreading awareness in their communities. Next, I approached my own community by holding assemblies for faculty at my school. I also had the honor of presenting at the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry and at the Science Congress in Albany, New York. 

Overall, the creation of my repellent is an achievement in itself, but the awareness that it brought about is what I am most proud of. Overall, I spent 2 and a half years focused on the study and my goal is to have the repellent globally marketed in the near future with profits being used to donate additional repellents to developing countries.

Veronica H May 04, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Veer Mukhi May 04, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Whoa! What an achievement! It is Worth all appreciations. She is a star*****! She deserves all Honors. Congratulations. It is nice that paper published the story in her own words. Our blessings, love and good luck to Ruchi & Jayesh (a supporting Dad). Anandi ji (Grand Mom) & Pragna (Mom) got Mothers’ Day gift. We know Nidhi (Ruchi's sister) will pick up soon and will shine. God Bless VEER MUKHI Arya Samaj of Long Island Inc, 319, Jerusalem Ave, Hicksville, NY 11801
Maria Michta May 04, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Congrats! What an impressive start to her scientific career.
Jean May 05, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Great job, Ruchi!!
AmazingAllergist.com May 06, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Wow! Great Job Ruchi. Congratulations and Best Wishes. You are indeed an inspiration to many, young and old, alike. Many more feathers are wished your way.


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