By Sharanya Gopinathan
What did you spend your time doing when you were a teenager? I spent most of my teenage years bunking classes and laying elaborate plans not to get caught, and for some reason also remember spending a lot of time as a mute spectator at basketball practice.
It’s a good thing all kids aren’t as aimless. Indrani Das, a 17-year-old Indian-American teen from New Jersey just won the top prize at America’s oldest and most prestigious high school science and math competition, the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition, which is known as the Junior Nobel Prize (12 of the people who won the contest have gone on to win actual Nobel Prizes).
Her project found a way of increasing the survival rate of neurons affected by injury or degenerative disease in the brain. According to PR NewsWire, “A contributor to neuron death is astrogliosis, a condition that occurs when cells called astrocytes react to injury by growing, dividing and reducing their uptake of glutamate, which in excess is toxic to neurons. In a laboratory model, she showed that exosomes isolated from astrocytes transfected with microRNA-124a both improved astrocyte uptake of glutamate and increased neuron survival.”
Indrani also plays the piccolo trumpet in a jazz band, and mentors young(er) students in math and science. Another Indian-American teen, Archana Verma, won fifth place in the competition, for her research on windows that could produce solar power.
While I can barely complete the medium difficulty Sudoku, eight other Indian origin teens made it into the top forty of this prestigious competition. Phew.