Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Science Box "Bringing the magic of science to the youth"

Science and Engineering have always been my passion, ever since I was very young. I still remember my mother telling me off when I would attempt to do some bizarre experiment in my backyard but the curiosity to explore this world was a huge driver for me. As I grew older my passion for science and engineering grew with me, I became more curious about the world around us and seek answers as to why things worked the way they did.

From the very beginning, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor and help people. But at the end of high school, a life losing a close friend of mine to cancer made me question my career aspiration to be a doctor. This was a huge turning point for me and I knew that being a doctor I couldn't do a lot to help the people around me. As a means of grieving, I became obsessed with cancer research and decided that I had to find a cure. After struggling to find a proper career direction I finally decided to pursue bachelors in chemical and biological engineering at the University of Waikato and found my passion for research. I passed my engineering degree with first class honors and had the opportunity to take on a Ph.D. project (new to University of Waikato) in tissue engineering. Due to limiting funding for this project I had to decline the Ph.D. offer and take on a master’s degree to start the project.

I am currently working on this project and it is something I am truly passionate about. My project aims at using the technology of 3D bioprinting to develop 3D tumor models for human breast cancer and then analyzing these models for genetics, histology and drug cytotoxicity while comparing them to the existing 2D models. This project has given me a chance to develop my engineering skills and apply them to cancer research. 

I have always believed in two things in my life; education and service. So whatever I do in my day to day life I try to incorporate these two things. I always ask myself how I can use my education to provide service to the community. A few months back I started a project quite spontaneously called the "Science Box". This project aims at bringing the world of science to primary school (aged 5-10 years old) kids and sparking their curiosity about the world around them. This project encourages young kiwis to be explorers and discover the mysteries of science in their day to day lives. I believe that science is for everyone and through this project, I want to eliminate the stigma in our youth that science is a difficult subject and can only be done by smart people. It is quite evident that in today's world parents are busy and teachers have to follow a certain curriculum, hence young kids are barely encouraged to explore their surroundings instead are given I pads or tablets to keep them busy. All the experiments that I conduct in my workshops are hands-on and can be done easily at home. I believe that to learn science we don’t require fancy equipment but all we need is our imagination and curiosity. I want our young generation to get their hands dirty and solve science challenges while learning fundamental scientific theories. Not only I want to teach kids science but also develop their interpersonal skills to prepare them for the future. The workshops hosted by science box consist of a range of scientific challenges that the kids have to solve in a team. These science challenges can all be done at home by using basic hold items so the kids can do these experiments outside of school time.

The workshop is aimed to be one and half hours long but could be extended to two hours if need be. The aim of the workshop is to engage students in a range of science experiments that can be done at home with no fancy equipment. These workshops will allow students to be curious about the things that they use in their day to day lives and learn the science behind them. The workshop is conducted by the facilitator and he/she will be providing the students with the material to conduct their science challenges. The class will be divided into groups of 4 to 5 students in each group and will be given a science challenge to complete. The groups will get 45 minutes to figure out the science challenge and come up with an idea of how the experiment works.

Although this project started as a single person mission, I envision it to be bigger. In a one month span, I have been able to take these workshops to over 200 primary school kids and have received some great feedback. I aim to make this project even bigger and taking it to places all over New Zealand. These workshops are free of charge and I mostly target schools that may have limited resources to expand their students’ learning. But there is more to my vision for this project I want to take it globally, I want to teach young kids in third world countries the value of science and engineering. Also, showing them that having limited resources or lack of equipment is not something that should stop one's curiosity but it is a way to create something new. All the amazing inventions in the world came out of adversity, and I believe that’s where innovation happens.

In order to make my vision even bigger, gaining financial support via Toptal scholarship will be a life changer. This project was a spontaneous decision for me but I believe that I have found something that can allow me to use my education and also serve the community. I know in order to make this project even bigger; especially global I would need a lot of support and mentorship in order to guide me especially in the area of project development/execution, marketing, attaining sponsorship etc. I need to build a team to make this project reach its heights and I have already started to put together a volunteering team consisting of university students so that we can expand this project to more schools next year.

I truly believe that this project can bring out the curiosity in young kids and lead them to take on a career in science and engineering, which is essential for our developing world.

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