6 Indian-Americans among 30 finalists in STEM competition

Several Indian-Americans are among 30 finalists chosen for the 9th annual Broadcom Masters, the nation’s premier Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) middle school competition. The program founded and produced by the Society for Science & the Public, seeks to inspire young scientists, engineers and innovators who will solve the grand challenges of the future.  

Indian-American finalists include David Anand of Akron, Ohio; Rishab Kumar Jain and Autri Das of Portland, Oregon; Ashwin Prabhakar of Madison, Alabama; Ganesh Venu of Friendswood, Texas; and Ruhi Yusuf of Newark, California. The finalists will travel to Washington, D.C. from Oct. 25 - 30 where they will participate in a rigorous competition and demonstrate their mastery in critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration in each of the STEM areas.

Anand, an eight-grader, who is homeschooled, designed a water quality monitoring kit called STREAM, which stands for Smart Technology for Reliable, Efficient Monitoring. Anand wanted to collect data from the Yellow Creek, stream near his house, so he designed STREAM, which could help collect day-to-day information about stream conditions, and someone wouldn’t have to go out into the field every day to get it. STREAM, which is built with micro-controllers and other parts, collects information about the water’s pH, temperature and levels of dissolved oxygen. It also measures how well the water can conduct an electric current. 

Das, a 6th grader at Stoller Middle School in Portland, Oregon was inspired to work on her project the last time when she visited Bangladesh. Climate change was not only changing the weather pattern in Bangladesh, but also in Oregom, where she lived. She set out to find less expensive and more environmentally friendly choices to treat Carbon dioxide, one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

Jain, an 8th grader at Stoller Middle School in Portland, Oregon, created the Pancreas Detective: A novel Artificial-Intelligence-based post-biopsy tool to screen genetic mutations towards personalizing pancreatic cancer treatment. It works with images of tissue samples from pancreatic cancer patients and uses data from the images to figure out which of five types of genetic mutations a patient probably has. To do that, Jain used a set of math rules called the k-Nearest Neighbors Algorithm.

It basically finds the known data points in a large group of data that come closest to something that it’s trying to classify. But first Jain needed that large group of data. He downloaded biopsy images of tissues for 453 cancer patients. Then he wrote an algorithm to pick out hundreds of features from those images. Then he tested it with the remaining 30 percent of the data. The tool worked well. Jain now hopes doctors might someday use it to choose mixes of treatments that will help more patients survive.

Prabhakar, an 8th grader at Discovery Middle School in Madison, Alabama, created multifunctional biodegradable polymers for environmental applications where he used photosynthesis to treat waste carbon dioxide gas in a lab experiment. He also wanted to combine his treatment process with electronic and other sensors. The sensors would make it easier to monitor the process.

Venu, an eight-grader at Friendswood Junior High in Friendswood, Texas, realized that many people around the world suffer from water shortages and a lack of food security including India. In order to help, he focused his research on rice, a main food source for people in India. The crop also needs different nutrients to thrive, including potassium.

Studies have suggested that an increase in potassium could cause a decrease in transpiration. Venu conducted two studies with rice plants grown either in soil or with hydroponics. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants that uses water-based solutions without soil. He fed plants in the control groups with a standard nutrient solution. He treated plants in his test groups with nutrient solutions plus different amounts of potassium. 

Yusuf, a seventh-grader at Challenger School-Ardenwood in Newark, California, wanted to find effective, safer alternatives to chemicals for villagers to purify water. Seeing he challenges of her uncle in India who manages a water district, Yusuf designed a purification system with plant-based materials.

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