Maria Elena Grimmett traveled to England’s famed Cambridge University in March to explore scientific discovery and its influence on literature. The 16-year-old is doing advanced research that could improve drinking water quality. Grimmett is honing a plastic adsorbent that eliminates pharmaceuticals.
Credit: Society for Science Maria Elena Grimmett traveled to England’s famed Cambridge University in March to explore scientific discovery and its influence on literature. The 16-year-old is doing advanced research that could improve drinking water quality. Grimmett is honing a plastic adsorbent that eliminates pharmaceuticals.

While most kids her age are playing video games or hanging out at the mall, 16-year-old Maria Elena Grimmett is doing advanced research that could improve drinking water quality.

Grimmett is honing a plastic adsorbent that eliminates pharmaceuticals. She’s too young to use local research facilities, so she uses the dining room of her parents’ Florida home as laboratory space to test polymer resins, which resemble tiny plastic beads with miniscule gaps. Water flows through a container loaded with resins. Drugs in the water cling to the spaces in the resins, and the water flows out with no drugs.

Her findings were solid enough to make her, at 14, the youngest person published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Grimmett’s scientific skill is powered by her own internal engine. Neither mom Karen nor dad Michael is in the field. Instead, her interest was piqued in her third-grade classroom. “My science teacher made experiments fun,” she says. “I started to look forward to the science fair.”

Fast forward to sixth grade, when Grimmett was on the prowl for subject material for the upcoming science fair. After seeing that her home’s well water looked brown, she discovered she could erase water stains using tiny chains of plastic to attract the contaminants, which attached to the resin.

She took top honors in the Environmental Science category, where she noticed another entrant’s work on pharmaceuticals contaminating water in the Everglades. That inspired her next experiment, which is now her ongoing mission.

Next Page: Her (young) life’s work