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Madhavi Gavini named a top Davidson Fellow

February 08, 2008 17:05 IST

Madhavi Gavini, 17, a freshman at Johns Hopkins University, was one of the top five winners of the 2007 Davidson Fellowships, established by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

The Fellowship recognises young people across the country for their outstanding achievements in science, technology, mathematics, music, literature or philosophy and supports them in the fulfillment of their potential.

In all, 17 young people, ranging in age from 14 to 17, were named Davidson Fellows this year. Like four other top winners Madhavi, a graduate of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science and recipient of the Young Scientist Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, got $50,000. Six others received $25,000 each, and the rest $10,000.

The Fellowship specifically recognises extraordinary young people who have completed a significant piece of work that has the potential to benefit society. Madhavi's research on stopping the growth of germs that hide behind a biological film won her the honor. This could help treat millions of people suffering from chronic pseudomonas bacterial infections.

Pseudomonas, an opportunistic, multi-drug resistant pathogen, produces biofilms that protect it from antibiotics and is a leading cause of death among patients with compromised immune systems. Through the combination of traditional Indian medicine and molecular biology, Madhavi identified a compound capable of penetrating and inhibiting the growth of the biofilm. This compound will be used in inhalers and antiseptic sprays to treat patients.

She became interested in her research after learning a friend had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis, as well as many other diseases compromises the immune system of the patient, possibly leading to a secondary infection caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas Aeruginosa. Wanting to help, she started with what she knows best: Herbs.

She began with her grandfather's book on Indian medicinal plants and eventually her research led her to the herb Terminalia Chebula, which contains a compound capable of inhibiting the growth of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa. She plans to publish her research. She won the Intel International prize, a scholarship from the Siemens Foundation, and a grant from the Department of Homeland Security for this work.

Madhavi, daughter of Nara Gavini and Lakshmi Pulakat of Starkville, Mississippi, is majoring in cellular and molecular biology and she hopes to become a biomedical researcher.

She was a member of her high school's Quiz Bowl and Science Bowl teams. She was also a member of the Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society as well as a member of the Organic Vegetable Garden Club. She tutors elementary school students in mathematics and Spanish. She also enjoys playing the flute and gardening.

Sixteen others received honorable mention. Among them, Vijay Jain of Roslyn, New York (project: 'An Integrated Smart Chip: The Early Diagnosis of Cancer and Rapid Identification of Bioterrorism'); Shravani Mikkilineni of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan ('Dendrimer-Based Nanodevices for Drug Delivery Across the Blood Brain Barrier'); Vinayak Ramesh of El Dorado Hills, California ('MEMS Bi-Morph Actuator and Piezoresistive Sensor Integrated Cantilevers for Enhanced AFM Imaging'); and Arkajit Dey of Palo Alto, California ('Tree-Realisability of a Distance Matrix').

The Davidson Institute, a national nonprofit organization, headquartered in Reno, Nevada, encourages, nurtures and supports profoundly gifted youth. The Davidson Fellows scholarship program was established in 2001.

'Every year we are astounded by the level of accomplishment we see in the Davidson Fellows,' said Bob Davidson, co-founder of the Davidson Institute.

'The Fellows' achievements didn't just happen,' said Dr Jan Davidson, co-founder of the Davidson Institute. 'They were supported by parents who made sacrifices to nurture them; they had mentors and teachers who not only shared their knowledge, but also a passion for the subject area. Many of these students had to overcome obstacles and challenges, taking it upon themselves to pursue their interests.'

A Correspondent