Get ready. Grab a snack. Hover your cursor over this link to attend. The 2021 3M Young Scientist Challenge is drawing to a close and you won’t want to miss what’s coming!

Now in its fourteenth year, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge inspires and encourages today’s middle school students to apply the innovative power of STEM to discover game-changing solutions to real world problems. Winning this challenge has resulted in some of the most exciting TED Talks given, patents filed, books written and nonprofits founded, not to mention students being listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list or invited to ring the NYSE bell – all before graduating high school. In other words, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a big deal, and witnessing the final round is like watching the Super Bowl of science.

Taking place on October 18–19th this year, ten national finalists will complete two hands-on challenges, present their final projects to an esteemed panel of judges, and learn on October 19th at 6:15pm ET who will be named the 2021 winner.

Être, a mentorship platform for girls, has followed the Young Scientist finalists every year, fascinated by the depth and diversity of thought that accompanies each remarkable project. This year was no exception, and we caught up with two of the ten finalists to find out more about their projects and what advice they have for aspiring STEM students. 

First, we met Veda Murthy, a seventh grader from Fairfax, Virginia, who developed the Cognitive Emotion Interpretation Application (CEIA) to help teachers and caregivers interpret the emotions an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) child is expressing.

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We asked Veda what inspired her to develop the CEIA, and what advice she has for other young innovators who want to solve big problems at an early age?

One of the main things that triggered me to explore the problem that I am tackling,” Veda explained, “was when I came across an article from a parent of an autistic child from my area (Fairfax County). We were transitioning to the online environment and it was hard for us to adapt, so I couldn’t even imagine how difficult it would be for special needs children. When I saw that autistic children were easily frustrated in front of the screen because they couldn’t communicate effectively with their teachers, I realized how important this problem was, so I wanted to develop a solution to help bridge this gap.”

My biggest advice for young innovators is to pick a problem that you are passionate about. Once you do this, it is easy to develop a solution to solve some of the most consequential global problems in the world.

Veda Murthy

Hoping to become an epidemiologist, “so that I can make a significant impact on society and shape the medical field for the better,” Veda’s 2021 Young Scientist submission may well be a game-changer for autistic children and their caregivers alike.

Next, we met Danielle Steinbach, also in the seventh grade and hailing from Morgan Hill, California, who used deep neural networks to more accurately diagnose and treat neurological disorders and brain diseases.

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We asked her how the COVID-19 pandemic sparked her interest in using deep neural networks and why addressing neurological disorders is important now more than ever?

“For the 3M Young Scientist Challenge,” Danielle began, “I wanted to combine neuroscience and artificial intelligence – AI. Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, psychiatric disorders were on the rise, and I understood from research papers that EEG – which measures electrical brain activity – had the potential to inform diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders, but that it really required deep neural networks to handle the complexity of EEG data.”

Danielle went on to explain that “[p]sychiatric and neurological disorders constitute a large part of the healthcare system cases, but generally diagnoses and treatment interventions cannot be done with biomarker blood testing. I wanted to work on developing neural biomarkers by leveraging EEG combined with AI. This is more important than ever,” she concluded, “with the large and rising number of these cases across the U.S.”

What made her enter the challenge in the first place?

I wanted to explore the intersection between the human brain and its counterpart, the computer. I also aspire to enter the medical field…so this challenge was a fantastic opportunity to integrate myself more into the world of brain computer interfaces and how they can be applied in early diagnosis and treatment.

Danielle Steinbach

 We’re so inspired already.

Seeing what the future holds, for these finalists and STEM students everywhere, is what discovery is all about. Entering this challenge which, alongside the Young Scientist Lab program and 3M’s Science at Home series, offers free access to digital resources and role models, may well lead to the world’s next big discovery.

Your next big discovery.

So flip back through your notebooks and revisit those drawings in the margins. That idea you’ve been pondering? Pursue it. Film a quick entry video and submit for 2022. You never know.

You just might be America’s Next Top Young Scientist.


  • Illana Raia

    Founder & CEO


    Recently named one of the first 250 entrepreneurs on the Forbes Next 1000 List, Illana Raia is the founder and CEO of Être - a mentorship platform for girls. Believing that mentors matter as early as middle school, Illana brings girls directly into companies they select to meet female leaders face to face. The goal, as Être's French name suggests, is to help today's girls figure out who they want to be.    Named a Mogul Influencer in 2017, Illana appeared in the HuffPost "Talk To Me" video series, participated in the 2018 Balance Project Interviews and the 2019 #WomenWhoRock campaign, and has been featured on Cheddar TV and podcasts like The Other 50%, Her Money, Finding Brave and Women To Watch. Illana has authored 50+ articles for Thrive Global, HuffPost and Ms. Magazine, and her award-winning book Être: Girls, Who Do You Want To Be was released on Day of the Girl 2019. Her next book, The Epic Mentor Guide, is scheduled to arrive on International Women's Day 2022.   Prior to launching Être in 2016, Illana was a corporate attorney at Skadden, Arps in NYC and an occasional guest lecturer at Columbia University. She graduated from Smith College and the University of Chicago Law School, and remains unapologetically nerdy.