Editor's note: We're celebrating this year's impressive 20 Google Science Fair finalist projects over 20 days in our Spotlight on a Young Scientist Series. Learn more about each of these inspiring young people and hear what inspires them in their own words.
Name: Adriel Sumathipala
Home: Virginia, USA
Age category: 16-18
Project: Creating a simple diagnostic tool for earlier detection of cardiac disease
Adriel met his grandfather through stories and grainy photos. In those stories, he also learned about the cardiac disease that caused his grandfather’s fatal heart attack when Adriel’s father was just 16. Wanting to prevent cardiac disease for future generations, Adriel worked with his favorite biology professor to research faster ways to detect heart illness. As a university student, he found a new biomarker for cardiac issues, allowing him to create a new affordable and simple diagnostic tool to detect cardiac disease much earlier than current tools in the market.
What was the inspiration behind your project?
I met my grandfather through my dad’s (often exaggerated and fantastical) stories; he died in his sleep from a stroke when my father was 16 years old. The odd thing about his death was that no one knew my grandfather had cardiac disease. In an underdeveloped country like Sri Lanka, troubled more by malaria than chronic diseases, who would test for cardiac disease?
When I was 14 years old, I was identified as being at risk for cardiac disease, based upon my precariously high cholesterol levels. Having already lost a family member to this disease, I began to follow a strict regimen of exercise and closely watched what I ate. However, after a few months, I failed to monitor my diet and exercise because I felt in the dark about my disease.
Was monitoring my diet closely and exercising regularly reducing my perilously high risk for cardiac disease?
Current diagnostics are tucked away in labs, expensive, and slow to report results, making it challenging for at-risk patients like myself to assess the effectiveness of their prescribed regimen. I just knew a better diagnostic could be made, so I began work on making my own.
I made my diagnostic for my family, for my older brother, younger sister, and dad who are all at risk for heart disease. I realized that we all needed a device that could easily track our risk for cardiac disease. So, I tried to make something simple, fast, and accurate to do just that for my family.
There’s a different kind of inspiration that comes from helping the people you love most. It doesn’t come in a moment of cerebral realization or with the flickering of an imaginary light bulb. It’s a continuous and unlimited inspiration. The kind of inspiration that pushed me through late nights in the lab, kept me going after innumerable failures, and stopped me from giving up my work.
When and why did you become interested in science?
While I can’t point to a pivotal moment that forever changed my interests, I can tell you why I love science.
Perhaps it started with my curiosity. I’m sure all parents and kids with younger siblings are aware of the incessantly inquisitive nature of young children; it starts just about when they learn to speak, and gradually fades away as the child grows older.
Unfortunately for my parents, that last bit didn’t happen and I never quite stopped asking them questions. In a world of questions, a universe of unknowns, science manifests itself as a brilliant arbitrator of reason. Sure, there’s no denying the incredible benefits science has brought unto humanity, but at its most fundamental level, science interests me because it explains the world around me, constantly fueling my curiosity. It’s the power of science to reveal truth and give meaning to existence that truly fascinated me.
As I grew older, I came to see science as more than just a means of explaining the unexplainable; I began to see it as a means to an end. An end that leaves a healthy, just and sustainable planet and that will ensure that my children will live long and happy lives.
This is the promise of science in the 21st century and the promise that lured me to science research. Its a simple promise of a better world. And it’s been worth every minute of my time to work towards this aim.
What words of advice would you share with other young scientists?
When you think about giving up, remember why and for whom you started your research.
Don’t compare your work to that of others; you’re the world’s foremost expert on your own research.
Find a balance between following established protocols and discovering your own methods; no genuine research is a radical departure from previous work, and humanity has, and always will, advance through small and incremental successes