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Christopher Prainito

Christopher Prainito

2022 Davidson Fellow
$25,000 Scholarship

Age: 18
Hometown: Bellmore, NY

Engineering: “Development of a Polydiacetylene-Based Paper Biosensor for Naked-Eye Detection of COVID-19 in Saliva”

About Christopher

My name is Christopher Prainito, and I am from Bellmore, New York. This fall I will be attending Harvard College where I plan to study mechanical engineering. Ultimately, I aspire to become an aerospace engineer and help to develop the next generation of space-travel technology.

Aside from science research, I enjoy long-distance running, model rocketry, and DIY projects. I have played the oboe for several years and have participated in ensembles including the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York and the All-National Symphony Orchestra. I am also the founder and president of Students Giving Trees, Inc., a nonprofit organization that plants trees in my local community through student volunteerism.

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"I am incredibly honored to have been selected as a Davidson Fellow and recognized for my engineering project. Furthermore, I am grateful for the support that the Davidson Institute has provided to pursue my education and continue scientific research in college and beyond. This distinction has not only united me with a group of highly gifted scholars, but it will also help to inspire future generations of innovators to identify and explore novel solutions to the world’s ever-evolving challenges."

Project Description

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, testing patients for the disease has been a significant challenge. The most common testing method, which is the RT-PCR test, is fairly accurate in detecting SARS-CoV-2, although it often takes several days to process results and is very costly to administer. In order to address this major issue, I designed and fabricated a paper-based sensor that changes color from blue to red if it detects the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in a saliva sample. Based on my laboratory testing, it was concluded that visual observations of the sensor after four hours of exposure to the saliva sample yielded comparable results to sensors developed in other research studies. Thus, due to the inexpensive and user-friendly nature of this sensor design, these results hold implications for use in developing regions of the world or in home environments of developed regions to quickly, accurately, and noninvasively determine if a patient is infected with COVID-19.

Deeper Dive

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, I quickly became aware of the immense disparity in healthcare systems around the world. I learned that in many global regions the general population does not have easy or affordable access to diagnostic testing, which has exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic in these areas. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which is one of the most common testing methods for this disease, is very accurate at detecting the virus; however, it can take several days to return results, is costly to administer, and cannot be processed without proper medical training and expensive equipment. In my project, I developed a paper-based, colorimetric biosensor for the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in saliva. The inexpensive and user-friendly sensor designed in this project has potential for use in developing and developed regions of the world to quickly, accurately, and noninvasively detect COVID-19.

Throughout the process of completing my research project, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a host of challenges. Primarily, with growing concern over virus transmission, many labs across the country were closed to non-university students. After sending out dozens of emails to local researchers and receiving many negative responses, Dr. Omowunmi Sadik of the New Jersey Institute of Technology graciously allowed me to perform my project in her lab within the BioSensor Materials for Advanced Research & Technology (BioSMART) Center. Throughout the entirety of my project, Dr. Sadik provided invaluable guidance and support that helped me navigate various experimental complications. Even after a minor timing error in the experimental procedure resulted in over a week of setbacks, Dr. Sadik reminded me that research is a process, not a destination and that setbacks are a critical part of being a scientific researcher. My high school research teacher, Ms. Barbi Frank, also played an invaluable role in educating me about the scientific method, guiding me through the process of writing a research paper, and supporting all of my ventures (STEM-related or otherwise). I would also like to thank my AP Chemistry teacher, Mr. Helmut Schleith; AP Physics teacher, Mr. Russell Lella; and district STEM chairman, Mr. Robert Soel, for their unfaltering support throughout my entire academic and research journey.

My work involving the development of a paper-based biosensor for salivary SARS-CoV-2 detection can potentially help to limit the spread of COVID-19. This inexpensive and user-friendly sensor can be used in home environments or in developing regions to rapidly test a large number of patients, therefore, informing quarantine decisions, as those who are infected with COVID-19 should stay at home and isolate themselves. This novel diagnostic device could help alleviate the pandemic’s impact on society and potentially save lives.


If you had your human body, but the head of an animal, what animal would you pick?

Owl because of the roughly 270-degree head rotation and night vision.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I hope to have completed my education (potentially obtained a Ph.D.) and be working in the aerospace field helping to develop the next generation of space travel technology.

If you could magically become fluent in any language, what would it be?

Latin so that I can read and translate ancient scripts.

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In The News

Bellmore, N.Y. – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2022 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 18-year-old Christopher Prainito of Bellmore. Prainito won a $25,000 scholarship for his project, Development of a Polydiacetylene-Based Paper Biosensor for Naked-Eye Detection of COVID-19 in Saliva. He is one of only 21 students across the country to be recognized as a 2022 scholarship winner.

Download the full press release here