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Young scientist: ‘I’m inspired to make the world a better place’

President Barack Obama speaks on a panel at the White House Frontiers Conference, October 13, 2016 NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

By Syamantak Payra
Junior, Clear Brook High School, Friendswood, Texas
Intel ISEF 2016 finalist, Broadcom MASTERS 2014 semifinalist

When I boarded a plane bound for Pittsburgh, I knew that the White House Frontiers Conference I was going to would be hosted by the President, that it would be about science and technology, and that I was extremely grateful to the Society for Science & the Public for sponsoring the whole trip.

What I didn’t know was just how astonishing the entire experience would be.

The sheer magnitude of the spirit of discovery still blows me away.

I was part of the Global Frontiers track, which focused on climate change and how we are harnessing the power of technology to combat it. One speaker, Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at X, discussed the importance of moving away from using “brute force” to solve problems and instead embedding intelligence into devices. He compared traditional wind turbines, built to be strong and tall like a tree, to the Makani Energy Kite — an airplane-turbine that stays aloft like a kite. (It’s like the turbine blimps in Big Hero 6, but real!).

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In the afternoon was the spectacular plenary session, which overflowed with innumerable entrepreneurs and scientific experts. I can’t even begin to describe the deluge of great ideas, the torrent of thought-provoking discussions from the intrepid pathfinders that spoke — from women in the space industry, to student environmentalists, to professors, and engineers, and doctors, and even the President. The sheer magnitude of the spirit of discovery that was concentrated in that one room still blows me away.

I want to be an inventor. I consider myself to be a perpetual tinkerer.

One thought that stuck with me was a comment by Chancellor Gallagher from the University of Pittsburgh: “It is people that are the fundamental ingredient in innovation, not materials or methodology … it is our responsibility to nurture that spark … that is at the heart of human innovation.”

Likewise, a line from President Barack Obama’s speech really spoke to me. He said that science is “that thing that sets us apart, that ability to imagine and hypothesize, and then test and figure stuff out, and tinker and make things and make them better, and then break them down and rework them.”

I’m inspired to help make the world a better place.

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an inventor. STEM is my passion, and I consider myself to be a perpetual tinkerer. It really resonated with me to see such concepts, a sort of unofficial teachers’ mantra and makers’ creed, instilled as the underlying tenets of a nation.

My excitement was unquenchable when I got to shake President Obama’s hand at the end of the conference!

The Frontiers Conference spoke volumes about our goals and dreams for the future, not only as a country, but as a species. I came back from Pittsburgh with a renewed appreciation for humans’ unending desire to understand, to create, to push the boundaries of what we know is possible and stretch our conceptions of reality. The tendency of our nation to achieve what was considered impossible — a man on the moon — and not only meet, but to exceed all expectations.

I’m inspired to continue questioning and coming up with creative solutions to our problems. 

And I am inspired even more to continue exploring, questioning, making, and coming up with creative solutions to our problems, to discover the frontiers that extend to infinity and beyond, and to help make the world a better place.

The future looks bright to me.

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