Indian Americans Shine At White House Science Fair 2016

The White House was transformed into a hands-on showcase of student innovation: robots, prototypes, tools to help us fight climate change and cancer – all researched, built, and designed by more than 100 young scientists during the annual White House Science Fair on April 13th this year. Several of those who had showcased their talents were of Indian origin, who, according to President Obama are going to change the future of America.

40 of the more than 100 budding scientists showed their inventions on the White House lawns and several Indian-American students were interviewed on live webcast, among them 12-year old Hari Bhimaraju of Kennedy Middle School, Cupertino, California. She used a Raspberry Pi and Arduino to design the hardware and software for “The Elementor”, a portable, low-cost teaching tool which is being tested by two schools for the blind. Asked what she would like to be when she grew up, Hari said, “I want to do something that will help people. Maybe like a biomedical engineer or something.”

During his speech to the nearly 130 young scientists and their mentors at the White House, President Obama first called out Maya Varma, a senior from San Jose, California, praising her for designing a tool much cheaper than the expensive detectors, for diagnosing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like asthma; he also showcased Anurudh Ganesan, 16, of Clarksburg, Maryland for creating VAXXWAGON, which can effectively transport vaccines in the last leg of distribution without the use of ice and electricity, saving potentially thousands of lives throughout the world, he noted.

Obama started the White House Science Fair in 2010 and this 6th annual fair, like other years, was witness to the rise of a younger generation of promising Indian-American scientists, whose projects ranged from making clean, potable water, carrying essential vaccinations for children safely to remote areas, and reducing Styrofoam waste into non-toxic eco-glue in just 30 minutes instead of hundreds of years!

When 12-year old Sindhu Bala from St. Louis, Missouri, offered President Obama a sample of the eco-glue developed by her team for which a patent is pending, he quipped, “I’ll be honest with you, the president rarely has to glue something, but I’ll be looking for it in stores,” after leaving the White House.

Eighteen-year old Sanjana Rane of Prospect, Kentucky, described in detail to the President when he stopped at her table, how starting from observing high levels of pollution in her city, she discovered how a particular protein could be used to detect and treat renal fibrosis, a disease she said which was connected to pollution. The President asked probing questions and then indicated he would have his staff connect Rane to research labs. “I’m open to that,” a confident Rane said. “I really love science since I was a kid,” said Rane who was brought up by a Dad who is into computer science and a Mom who is a researcher.

Yashaswini Makaram, 17, of Northborough, MA, created a new cell phone security tool that records the distinctive arm and hand motions people use to lift a cell phone from a table to uniquely identify the cell phone’s owner. Hari Bhimaraju, a 12-year old Kennedy Middle School student from Cupertino, California, used a Raspberry Pi and Arduino to design the hardware and software for “The Elementor”, a portable, low-cost teaching tool to help visually impaired students learn the periodic table of elements.

Neil Davey, 20, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, took on the study of cancer for his International BioGENEius Challenge project. Neil’s goal was to detect cancer early, when there are often more treatment options and better outcomes for cancer patients. Nevada students Krishna Patel, 12, and Isha Shah, 13, and Sidney Lin, 13, overcame the obstacle of losing their original teacher and mentor to compete at the Future City National competition. These Hyde Park Middle School students created a sustainable, waste-free, municipal city, winning Team Kilau Most Sustainable Buildings and City of the Future that Best Incorporates Cultural and Historical Resources.

W.P. Davidson High School, represented by Rupa Palanki, 17, Jacob Bosarge, 17, Nolan Lenard, 16, has become one of the best of the BEST in Alabama, winning 1st Place Overall BEST Award in the Jubilee BEST Robotics Competition and 2nd Place Overall BEST Award in the South’s BEST Regional Championship—making W.P. Davidson’s team the highest-ranking team in Alabama. 18-year-old Sanjana Rane, from Prospect, Kentucky, has helped discover how a particular protein could be used to detect and treat renal fibrosis. Her discovery helps to prevent renal fibrosis from developing into end-stage renal disease, an incurable total failure of the kidneys.

Every summer Deepika Kurup, 18, and her family travel from their home in Nashua, New Hampshire, to India. Always privileged in the U.S. to have unlimited access to potable water, she saw Indian children drink water that she felt was too dirty to touch. Her innovation made her a finalist in the 2015 Google Science Fair and a winner of the National Geographic Explorer Award. Deepika hopes to use her creation to provide cleaner drinking water to families in India and around the world.

When Anurudh Ganesan, now 16, was an infant, his grandparents walked him 10 miles to a remote clinic in India in order to receive a vaccination. He learned that, according to UNICEF, 1.5 million children die every year as a result of not getting the safe and effective vaccines that they so desperately need. His creation, VAXXWAGON, can effectively transport vaccines in the last leg of distribution without the use of ice and electricity, saving potentially thousands of lives throughout the world. Anurudh’s project earned him the 2015 Google Science Fair LEGO Education Builder Award.

Bansi Parekh, 17, and four team-mates Siobhan Garry, 17, Mona Fariborzi, 17, Lauren Mori, 17, , and McKenna Stamp, 18, Bansi Parekh, 17, and four team-mates Siobhan Garry, 17, Mona Fariborzi, 17, Lauren Mori, 17, , and McKenna Stamp, 18, created a more positive and welcoming environment, a group of teen programmers created Spectrum, an Android app that aims to provide a social-media network for the LGBTQIA+ community, especially younger users looking for a safe support system.

Winners of the 2015 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, Varun Vallabhaneni, 17, Savannah Cofer, 18, Valerie Chen, 18, Matthew Sun, 17, composed of an inorganic, endothermic fiber that absorbs heat from its environment and keeps the firefighter safe even at dangerously high temperatures, FireArmor keeps the firefighter safe even above 1000 degrees Celsius and provides up to five minutes of protection in flash fire conditions, in contrast to current firefighter turnout gear which rapidly degrades above 300 degrees Celsius and provides less than six seconds of protection in flash fire conditions.

Maya Varma, a 17-year-old from San Jose, California, used her knowledge of 3D printing, electrical engineering, and computer science, along with data of lung capacity and flow rate, to build the device, which can currently diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and restrictive lung disease with remarkable accuracy.

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