If you can someday enjoy a backyard barbecue or a hike through the woods without being bombarded by mosquitoes, you may have Ruchi Shah to thank.
The potentially fatal disease, which is spread by mosquitoes, is rare in the United States. But worldwide it infects 100 million people annually, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shah's uncle survived, but she couldn't forget her visit with him at that clinic in India.
"What really struck me was this line of people outside this tiny clinic," said Shah, 18. "There's such a disparity [of wealth] and such poverty that people can't afford mosquito repellent."
When she got back home, Shah built a chamber to study how mosquitoes respond to human perspiration. She theorized that the insects are drawn to people with a high ratio of certain compounds in their sweat.
"My goal was to find out what those ratios were and what makes some people more attractive to mosquitoes," she said.
After more than two years of experiments, she created an all-natural spray that scares off the bugs -- and costs less than other types of repellent. Shah, who is her school's valedictorian, won a $25,000 Axa Foundation scholarship for her project and is seeking to patent the formula.
Her guidance counselor, Kurt Baumiller, said Shah "gives me faith in humankind. . . . She's going to change the world."
HER PLANS: "I'm heading to the Scholars for Medicine program at Stony Brook University," which gains her automatic admission into the college's medical school. She will major in biology and journalism.
AT COLLEGE I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: "Meeting students from around the world who are just as passionate about something as I am."
HIGH SCHOOL HIGH POINT: Volunteering at Stony Brook University Hospital, where she brought books and magazines to patients. "It was kind of my job to be a little ray of sunshine and brighten their days a little bit."