(October 22, 2022) “Kalpana Chawla’s story inspired many people. She came from a small town but nothing could beat her determination to dream big and achieve it. At a time when her field was largely male-dominated, she broke stereotypes to convert her dreams into a reality. Little did she know that she would inspire millions of girls like me, who were forced to back off from their dreams or not.” That’s how innovator and technologist Arunima Sen begins her TedX Talk. The girl whose curiosity about science and technology led her to become an innovator and a designer, is now finding solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. From developing a device that determines micronutrient levels in the human body using hair strands to building a prototype of an energy-efficient solar hybrid bus to a green building, the 21-year-old is keen to find answers. The STEM enthusiast, who aspires to work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Goals, was named a 2020 Global Teen Leader of the We Are Family Foundation and is one of The Mars Generation’s 24 under 24 Innovators in STEAM and Space.
Growing up in Bengaluru, Sen was always surrounded by discussions on varied scientific research projects, thanks to her parents, who worked at the Indian Space Research Organisation. The environment helped ignite a scientific temper and fanned her curiosity. This early interest in science found her gravitating toward global problems, for which she decided to find solutions using STEM. As she tended to her autistic brother’s special needs, she would often ponder over the various problems that humans face, and try to look for solutions. For this, she would spend hours reading on the internet about scientific advancements. As she did her research, she found that technology is at the root of everything, and when combined with engineering, it can positively impact society. “As youngsters, we are the future of this country and the world. We need to come up with solutions,” she told Deccan Herald.
As early as Class 10, she was selected for The Junior Academy conducted by The New York Academy of Sciences – a program meant for teenagers interested in science and finding solutions to different problems. Her first project was measuring the micronutrients in a person’s body, for developing countries like South Africa, India, and South-East Asia, providing data on health problems is essential. Sen, who believes that micronutrients play an important role in health, worked on a prototype called Arduino Pro Mini that gives an exact measure of micronutrients in the body. “We wanted to make this method non-invasive, so what we do is collect strands of hair and dip them in a particular chemical solution. Once the solution absorbs the nutrients from the hair, it is analysed via spectrophotometry. To put it in layman’s terms, we measure the wavelength that the nutrients emit using spectrophotometry. By observing these wavelengths, we get to know if there is a deficiency of micro-nutrients or not,” she told edexlive.
She collaborated with like-minded students from Poland, Finland, and the USA to develop a cost-effective device. “It is small and has a spectral response range of 320-1000 mm, a range that works for all micronutrients that our project is working with. It is designed to be used either via Bluetooth with a compatible phone or a tablet or with an integrated touchscreen display to allow use in the most varied conditions,” Arunima told The Better India. Her research will help patients in India on a micro level.
Apart from it, the 21-year-old also worked on Homestead Greens – the high-rise buildings that can save energy and lower the emission of carbon – with students from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Norway, and Romania. While living in a locality that had frequent power cuts, she realised it wasn’t a green building and produced a lot of carbon dioxide, thus adding to global warming. That’s when she decided to work on a prototype of a building that was energy efficient as well as helped with harvesting rainwater – a design meant for commercial and non-commercial purposes. “One part of the building wall is covered with solar panels that help in trapping a lot of natural energy. We also have automatic lights that turn off or become dim when you leave the room. The building will also have a trellis of vines and climbers that run down the building. These plants will be watered by the rainwater harvesting system. This helps us save over a thousand litres of water,” added the Global Indian.
The recipient of Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar, who is pursuing her bachelor’s in Computer Science and Physics from Ashoka University, is also a Yale Young Global Scholar of Yale University and a member of the Junior academy of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Even during the pandemic, she didn’t put brakes on her work. During an interaction with the press, Arunima said, “I am currently being mentored by professionals from Sidewalk Labs — an urban innovation company working to make cities more sustainable and affordable for all. Since the pandemic had brought many discussions and assignments to a halt, my friend and I are working to resume it soon.”
- Follow Arunima Sen on Linkedin