The few years of research were not always easy.
“This is a 2-, 3-year effort. Almost every day some thing
goes wrong,” Nithin said, adding that it is only when collecting all the successful experiments for a science fair that
he realized he had made much progress.
“It doesn’t seem like you’ve done a lot. Half of the Western blots (a method to detect specific proteins) were not
right,” he said.
And yet, he still had some results — indomitable survivors that withstood the storm of empirical testing.
Though he had school to attend, principal Charles Mos-sett and counselor Janet Smith eased restrictions and let
Nithin take online classes to make it easy for him to head
out to the lab, which was more than an hour’s drive away.
His parents provided a driver to pick him up, so that the
sleep-deprived youngster could catch up on a few of the 40
Nithin said his parents were able to intelligently discuss
topics as long as they were framed correctly.
“They’re obviously not academics; they’re physicians.
Some … molecular features they didn’t know much about.
They must have learned these things 20-30 years ago, and,
obviously, … much has changed.”
But when Nithin was writing his papers they were able to
read the primary source material, give suggestions and cri-
tique what he was saying.
“So (they were) not only talking about the project, but
making it happen,” he said.
Nithin came into his own when he became a James
Simon Fellow at the laboratory of Berhane Ghebrehiwet, an
immunologist who, along with his wife, had isolated
gC1qR, a protein that proved to be a gift that kept on giving.
Nithin had approached the Ghebrehiwets himself, after
researching their work on the Internet.
Coming in on a Simons Summer Research Fellowship, he had already read all of
Ghebrehiwet’s papers on the topic.
“Everyone in the lab was very kind. That’s
always the case with high school students,”
he said, pointing out that almost all of them
had eight years of lab experience.
Then he made a mistake that, in some
other place, may have snuffed his hopes right there.
Probably because he did not wash his
hands with a pipette, Nithin contaminated a
lot of samples.
“Most people would not go back and give
people the same access after that,” he said.
Ghebrehiwet had a chat with him, during
which Nithin apologized profusely. Luckily,
Ghebrehiwet was more into nurturing than
‘Everyone makes mistakes, but don’t be
discouraged,’ he told Nithin.
“Ghebrehiwet was awesome. He allowed
me to do whatever he wanted, even let me
work late (alone),” Nithin said, adding, “He
trusted me probably more than I deserved.”
In time, the duo developed a strong working relationship.
Given Nithin’s tight schedule, he reserves his reading time for books related to research, but has less stringent standards when it comes to
entertainment. He enjoys House and Scrubs on television and listens to almost all popular music — rock, hip-hop and R&B. But not country.
Vijay Balse, Aadith
Moorthy and Anamika
Veeramani stunned us
with their unique talents
and razor sharp minds.
They were the recipients
of the inaugural India
Abroad Special Award for
Achievement in 2011.
Major Kamaljeet Singh
Kalsi and Captain
Pratima Dharm, for being
role models and patriots
who make us proud; and
Sukanya Roy for inspiring
the next generation won
the India Abroad Special
Award for Achievement
“He would take a few hours to talk to
me. It was important for him that I
understand the details,” Nithin said.
Fortunately, their experiments were
“But, regardless of whether it worked
or not, he was focused on making sure I
understood the theory, not just the techniques,” Nithin said. And that is important to the Harvard freshman, who is
now trying to use his never-flagging love
for computer science to fuel research –
through a start-up.
In school, he had worked awhile on a
robotics team. He is now working with
friends accepted to a program in California – Summer@Highland, a venture
capital firm for student founders based
in the Bay Area.
The team has already been given
$80,000 to get the firm off the ground.
Nithin’s school eased attendance restrictions and let him take online
classes to make it easy for him to head out to a lab
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