EAST PEORIA — A 13-year-old East Peoria girl will have a chance to convert the pennies she used for her science fair project into prize money possibly as high as $25,000.

Elsa Olmstead, a seventh-grade student at Concordia Lutheran School in Peoria, participated in the Illinois Junior Academy of Science Region One Heart of Illinois Science and Engineering Fair at Bradley University on March 9. Between 200 and 300 students from 15 counties throughout central Illinois participated in the science fair. Elsa’s project earned a Best in Category — Chemistry. She is one of 21 participants who qualified for the Illinois Junior Academy of Science State Science Fair on May 3 and 4 in Carbondale.

Elsa has also been invited to apply for the Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars competition. The MASTERS is a national competition sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science & the Public. She will need to submit an online application by June 12. Entries will be judged during the summer, and the 300 top projects will be announced Sept. 4. From those projects, 30 finalists will be selected to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals in October and a chance to compete for prizes including the $7,500 Lemelson Award for Invention, the $10,000 Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation, the $20,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement and the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize.

“Obviously, we’re very proud of Elsa, and it was great to see all the hard work she put in pay off. It gives her the confidence to continue on,” said Elsa’s father, Craig Olmstead. “There were so many great projects at the science fair. We were amazed at what all the different children did. It made us think these kids are going to be a lot smarter than we were when we were kids.”

Elsa’s project was the chemistry behind making dirty copper pennies shiny. She soaked dirty pennies for an hour in seven different solutions including Dawn dish washing soap, Pepsi, vinegar and salt, mustard, ketchup, household bleach, and pure lemon juice.

“Lemon juice changed them the most and made them the shiniest because it was the most acidic,” she said. “I find dirty pennies all over the place everywhere I go. Most people think salt and vinegar is what you would normally use to clean one. But a different solution did it.”

Elsa began working on her project in November 2018 and completed her experiments in February. Her brother, Will Olmstead, 12, was impressed by her tenacity and was gratified to see her receive recognition for her work.

“Elsa spent a lot of time doing her project, and I was really happy for her when it paid off,” he said.

While she enjoys science, Elsa maintains that mathematics is her favorite school subject because of her love for solving math problems. She has yet to decide on a career choice or a college but believes she has time ahead of her to make those decisions.

“I don’t really know what I want to do yet,” she said. “I’m in seventh grade. I know I want to go to college, but I don’t know which one yet.”

While Elsa’s parents are properly proud of their daughter’s scientific achievements, they are also aware of the important role faculty mentorship played in facilitating her success.

“We want to extend a big thank-you to Elsa’s teacher, Carlie Kaufmann,” said Elsa’s mother, Karin Olmstead. “She did a great job guiding all the kids.”