Eighth grade student Ellie Lou Olvera won a $10,000 prize at a prestigious national competition this month.
The 13-year-old traveled to Washington, D.C for the Thermo Fisher Junior Innovators Challenge (JIC), the nation’s premier middle school STEM competition owned and produced by the nonprofit organization Society for Science.
Olvera was chosen from the 30 finalists, who were selected from nearly 2,000 applicants from 49 states, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico. Winners were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, engineers and educators.
The Carpinteria-native’s research centered on how to combat period poverty, which affects one-quarter of our population. She examined the absorbency of six eco-friendly sample fabrics she made from natural fibers, including bamboo, cotton and hemp, to create affordable and reusable menstrual pads.
After testing each sample three times, she found that the fabric made of a cotton and hemp blend was the most absorbent.
Inexpensive, eco-friendly period products “will empower menstruators to pave their own path towards equity while reducing waste, spending and health risks,” Olvera says.
Olvera’s hard work and innovation have earned her the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement, which recognizes the student whose work and performance shows the most promise in health-related fields and demonstrates an understanding of the many social factors that affect health. The prize came with a $10,000 cash prize for Olvera and her school, Santa Barbara Charter School’s HomeBased Partnership, will also receive a $1,000 grant to support STEM programming.
When asked about her career, Olvera stated she wants to be an environmental engineer. “A career in environmental engineering offers a variety of occupations that use science to bridge human needs and wants with the stewardship of nature,” she explains.
In her spare time, Olvera enjoys swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, surfing and — most of all — free diving. “My absolute passion is being in the water, especially the open ocean,” she says.