At 15, New Orleans native Keiana Cavé went on a research mission following the 2010 BP oil spill.
The then-high school sophomore realized that the oil sitting on the surface was doing more harm than previously thought.
"I remember watching the news and the news anchor was talking about the after-effects of the BP oil spill and I remember thinking there are probably some issues left [unsolved]," Cavé said.
She realized that when the UV rays from the sun mixed with the oil on the ocean's surface, the result was carcinogenic. According to ABC News, Cavé entered a hometown science fair and won the top prize. That win and her science teacher's support were the fuel she needed to launch her career in STEM and continue her research.
"It was a complete shock to me," she recalled. "It was also the first time I realized people might actually care about the problem I'm trying to solve."
Now a sophomore at the University of Michigan, the young innovator has garnered accolades for her work and has received funding from Chevron to continue her research. She was also named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2017.
Cavé, a chemical engineering major, has published two research papers and holds two patents for her toxin detection methods. Her next project aims to neutralize the cancer-causing chemicals found in toxins.
“I am currently developing a dispersant in the form of a powder. In order to develop dispersants, you really need to look at the molecular structure to see how it will affect the environment chemically," she explained. "That’s what I’m working on right now and I’m trying to perfect it.”
She hopes to inspire others and save the world, two things that hold equal importance to Cavé.
“Follow what you want to do no matter what," Cavé said of the advice she gives to other young women in STEM. "Maybe you don’t look like them, and they might not think that you know as much as they do, but you have to prove you do. Keep your head down, and work really hard.”