March 22. 2013 10:59PM

Award-winner shares enthusiasm for science

Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA - Nashua High School South freshman Deepika Kurup, the grand prize winner in last year's Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, received more recognition and spoke to hundreds of sixth graders at an assembly at her old middle school Friday.

Speaking before a gymnasium packed full of students at Fairgrounds Middle School, Kurup said that while her newfound celebrity and status as a role model can be a bit tough to process, she relishes her role in encouraging young girls into the fields of science and math.

"I am definitely enthusiastic about getting young women more enthusiastic about science, especially at the middle school age when many start to see their interest wane," Kurup said.

Superintendent Mark Conrad and Discovery Education honored Kurup for her award-winning solution for harnessing solar energy for the purpose of water purification, a technology that many believe has the potential to save lives around the world.

Kurup said that she hoped her message to the students in attendance would encourage them to do what they are passionate about and encourage anyone interested to participate in this year's 3M Challenge.

"I think it is cool to come to my old school and show the kids they can compete in this really awesome competition. I am really passionate about science. By showing that, maybe I can get more students to participate," Kurup said.

Along with working towards her goal of becoming a neurologist, Kurup is still working on her water project, having just recently applied for a patent for her technology.

"I want to get it deployed in countries affected by the water crisis," Kurup said.

To aid in that goal, Kurup said she and her parents, Pradeep and Meena Kurup, are looking into starting a non-profit, aiming to in people who want to help her start using her invention to save lives in impoverished countries around the world.

"We are so proud that we are doing all these things, and Discovery is doing an awesome job to encourage kids to do this," Meena Kurup said.

Both Pradeep Kurup, who is a professor of civil engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Meena Kurup said they regret that New Hampshire is one of the few states that does not have a state science fair for middle school students that would allow them to reach national competitions.

As a result of her invention, Deepika has received international attention from both media organizations and the scientific community.

And the highlight for her parents was when the family got to meet President Barack Obama. They said that when Obama was in New Hampshire campaigning during the last presidential race, he set up a meeting with the family after reading about Deepika in the Union Leader.

"Deepika got to spend 10 minutes with the President, and he was genuinely interested in her project," Meena Kurup said.

Felina Basche of Discovery Education said Discovery wanted to do something special for the middle school that produced Deepika and set up the science displays and demonstrations for the students, remarking: "We're here to celebrate Deepika and celebrate the teachers who helped her get here."

Fairgrounds science teacher Sue Rowse, who had Deepika as a student when she was in sixth grade, said, "She was very obviously a shining star in the class, she sparked such wonderful discussions. She is a leader."

"I think you have a student here who is a great kid, warm and friendly, and wants to make the world a better place," Conrad said.