This Oregon Teen is Transforming the World With STEM

April 29, 2021

By Aysha Mahmood

Pledge to Take Action

She was the youngest person to ever win Google’s International Science Fair. And she hasn’t even finished high school yet.

Born in Portland, Oregon, Anushka Naiknaware was awarded the LEGO Education Builder Award at the 2016 Google Science Fair  — at 13 years old — for her project, a low-cost biocompatible sensor for Wound Management. In layman’s terms, she designed a sensor that’s able to detect when a caregiver should change the bandage to a wound.

“I stumbled across a statistic in an Integumentary System Reading, which stated that the number of patients with chronic wounds in the US is greater than the number of patients with leukemia, colon, lung, and breast cancer combined,” Anushka said. “That shocking fact kick-started my foray into biotechnology.”

Since then, the now 18-year-old has continued to work on her project and hopes to expand upon its elements in future work at a professional level. She also continues to fiercely advocate for more representation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce. Women of color make up an even smaller percentage.

“Representation is the first step towards equity and equality in STEM fields for underrepresented minorities, as well as women,” she said. “More women and people of color in STEM translates to more talent, and ultimately a better world.” 

Next fall, Anushka’s heading to MIT to study engineering and plans to continue innovating, creating, and developing inventions that help others and change the world. 

“Hopefully by observing the world around us, and conducting experiments, we can move closer to solving important issues such as climate change, poverty, or global health crises,” she said.

When Anushka isn’t changing the world with her inventions, she loves skating, cooking, and gaming. (Most recently, she’s been hooked on WandaVision!) In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, she also turns to nature and space to help her stay calm and take care of her mental health. Stargazing and hiking, she said, “always makes me appreciate the beautiful yet mysterious world we live in.”

To other teens who want to change the world, Anushka knows that sometimes people can doubt her abilities. In moments like these, Anushka thinks back to something Michelle Obama once said, which she roughly paraphrases to, “Powerful people aren’t as smart as you initially think they are.”  

“The artificial indicators of power ‘knowledge,’ ‘wealth,’ ‘age,’ or  ‘coursework’ don’t directly translate to your potential,” she added. “Don’t let others limit who you are and could be. Everything starts with something small! Never get hung up on being ‘not knowing enough’ or being ‘good enough.’ Even a small step, in the right direction is powerful, and has the ability to change the world.”

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