Meet Indrani Das, the winner of the 76th Regeneron Science Talent Search competition. 17 year old, Indrani Das emerged as the top prize winner of $2,50,000 nearly Rs. 1.63 crore in this Science Talent Search competition held in the U.S. Indrani Das worked on treating neurodegenerative disease and brain injury.
This science competition is the oldest US science competition for students and is now sponsored by the medical company, Regeneron, in association with the Society for Science and the Public (SSP). Nicknamed the “Junior Nobel Prize”, it was originally sponsored by Westinghouse in 1942 and Intel took it up from 1998 till last year. Indrani is also a Research Intern – Center for Abnormal Placentation at Hackensack University Medical Center and Emergency medical technician at New Milford Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Her other awards and achievements are living proofs of her talent and her immeasurable love for Science and Technology :
1- Winner of the “North Jersey State Spelling Bee” and contestant in “2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee”, Washington DC. Ranked 43rd among 280 contestants representing 12 nations.
2- Top 15 National Finalist in 2016-17 American Academy of Neurology Research Competition. o 1st Place in Cell and Molecular Biology at the 2016 New Jersey Academy of Sciences.
3- 2nd Place Poster Presentation at 2016 Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.
4- Honorable Mention in 2015 and 2016 North Jersey Regional Science Fairs.
5- Winner (1st Place) of 2016 Science Olympiad Regional Tournament in Protein Modeling.
6- Finalist (4th Place) in 2015 Science Olympiad Regional Tournament in Anatomy & Physiology.
7- Finalist (5th Place) in 2016 Invitational Science Olympiad Tournament in Cell Biology.
8- “USA Biology Olympiad Semifinalist” (2015).
9- National Finalist (5th place) in HOSA Biotechnology in both 2014 and 2015.
10- Finalist in the “National French Contest”: 2014 bronze (level II), 2015 silver medalist (level III).
11- Inducted into BCA’s Chapter of “National Honor Society” (2015) and “French Honor Society” (2015).
12- Recognized with a special Letter of Commendation (November 2015) from our Principal, for voluntarily maintaining the upkeep of the Cell Biology Lab and mentoring younger students in the absence of lab’s research assistant.
Indrani lives in New Jersey and has an excellent profile, bundled with huge honours and academic laurels at such a young age. Have a look at Indrani’s Resume.
In conversation with Indrani Das:
Q: Tell us something more about yourself?
I am a high school student in New Jersey, in the US – soon to graduate and attend university. I live with my parents and my pet fish. I’m a coffee addict, I collect pens and pencils, and I enjoy video games.
Q: What are your favorite subjects? What do you aspire to be?
I love biochemistry. It’s a subject where chemistry and physics come together to explain what we describe in biology. I aspire to be a physician-scientist, so that I can conduct research as well as treat patients in my career.
Q: How did this idea strike you? How does it feel after winning the Junior Nobel Prize award?
I came to the major ideas of my research project through a process of reading scientific literature and running small experiments over the course of several years. Over time, I gained experience in the subject of neuroscience, and it became easier for me to come up with ideas to test and interpret the results.
I really feel blessed to have won this award. The competition itself was a very humbling experience – the judging process was extremely rigorous, and my fellow finalists were brilliant in every possible way. I still can’t really believe I won, but I understand the award is both an honour and a responsibility to keep pushing myself in my research and academic work.
Q: Tell us something more about your project? How does this project works?
My project proposes a new method of repairing astrocytes (supporting brain cells) that contribute to the damage of neurons (the main, signal conducting brain cells). By treating these astrocytes with a certain complex, I was able to decrease a toxic chemical buildup, which prevented neuron damage.
Q: What is the larger vision of this project?
There are a several facets to my vision for this project. First, I think some of my results point to two intersecting pathways that could be the targets of future treatments. Second, I want to adapt my studies to different, specific brain injury conditions – such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. By doing so, I could see if the disease progresses in a similar way to how I believe it might. Finally, I want to use my treatment complex on living animals, which could possibly show that.
Q: What was the initial knowledge required for this project? What further studies you had to take up for the accomplishment of this project?
I started my project as I was beginning high school, at the age of fourteen, with only a rudimentary understanding of biology. What set the tone for my work was the learning curve I went through in the following months and years. I spent hours each day reading research journals to come to an understanding of the problems in brain injury that I wanted to study, and used my growing knowledge base to help me conduct more and more refined experiments.
Q: Who was your mentor throughout this project?
My mentor was a biology teacher at my high school, who ran the cell culture facilities in which I worked. She helped me in my initial learning curve by giving me access to research journals I needed, and taught me the basic principles of research using cell culture. Throughout these years, my mentor has consistently come to school on weekends, early in the morning, and stayed late in the evening to give me (and others) extra time and support in running our experiments.
Q: What were the challenges that you faced in making this project a grand success? How did you over come them?
Two big challenges for me were my lack of in-depth experience with molecular biology and neuroscience, and the current controversies concerning what goes on (at the cellular level) in brain injury. On one hand, my knowledge was insufficient, and on the other, I couldn’t turn to any one source for basic information. I overcame this knowledge gap by reading widely, trying to piece together bits of information from various sources, and ultimately, trusting my own intuition and experimental design to answer some of the questions I had.
Q: What are the other projects that you are currently working on? What are your future goals?
In addition to my own research, I am currently serving as a research intern at a local hospital, studying abnormal placentation. This has been a great opportunity for me to learn about a different field of medicine while practising my basic lab skills. I am also a licensed Emergency Medical Technician. I work on a volunteer ambulance that serves my town, and I love the experience it gives me with responding to emergencies and helping patients. In the near future, I will be attending university, where I hope to continue performing research and working as an EMT.
Q: What is your message to the youth aspiring to bring in a change through their innovations?
Never stop learning and adapting. It’s great to have ideas and to work hard at pursuing them. In order to bring about change, however, you yourself have to be ready for changing circumstances. You need to understand the time, place, and people with whom you are working and plan your projects accordingly. Although you will still encounter failure, if you follow this model (while working honestly and persevering), you will be prepared to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.
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