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Aparna Paul, a senior at Elizabethtown Area High School, was named senior champion at the North Museum Science & Engineering Fair.

A summer enrichment program led to a second-place finish for a first-time science fair participant.

Aparna Paul, an Elizabethtown Area High School senior, investigated a new way to test drinking water for E. coli, hitting on a method that could be cheaper and more efficient than current practice.

Her project, “Gold Nanoparticles as a Colorimetric Sensor for E. Coli,” won her the senior champion award Wednesday at the North Museum Science & Engineering Fair held at Spooky Nook Sports. The prize recognizes her as the overall runner-up for the science fair.

For her project, Aparna used gold nanoparticles capped with different molecules to create a solution that changes color in the presence of E. coli, a bacteria that can cause a variety of illnesses.

Gold nanoparticles, which are chemically stable and non-toxic, have been used in a variety of ways in the biomedical field, including as drug-delivery systems.

For her project, Aparna took advantage of the fact that the nanoparticles change color when packed tightly together.

Her method of testing for E. coli, which uses only a few compounds, could improve on the current test that uses a complex combination of compounds and can take seven days to get results.

“This method, using gold nanoparticles to find the concentration of E. coli, only takes four compounds and five minutes to accomplish ... a much simpler detection tool,” she said.

With increasing concerns about bacteria in food and drinking water, such an early detection system could prevent outbreaks, she said.

Aparna said she got the idea after a fellow student did some research on silver nanoparticles. She then got some of the know-how after attending the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences, a summer enrichment program held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

At the summer school, Aparna said she did a lot of chemistry and lab work, which helped with work needed to run her experiments for her first-ever science fair project.

Aparna, the daughter of Sanjay and Zahira Paul, said she’s not yet sure where she will attend college, but added that she’ll definitely major in chemical engineering.

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