Nithin Tumma may not have been able to discuss research with his parents, but it was they whotaughthimthebene- fits of education, exploration,
critical thinking, and the relief provided by
Suresh and Kavita Tumma, both physicians, were alumni of the Osmania Medical
College in Andhra Pradesh, but did not
know each other before their families
arranged their marriage.
After marriage, Kavita came to the US
first, in 1990, and Suresh two years later.
They both did internal medicine in Detroit
where Nithin was born. They moved to Port
Huron in 1999.
His mother Kavita saw some early signs of
Nithin’s precocity when, at four, while visiting her cousin Bharati Reddy in India, the
boy took a fancy for a bottle of Coke in the
Shy of directly demanding it, he asked for
something to drink. Asked what, he replied
that he wanted a liquid.
Intrigued by the response, the adults inquired
further, to learn that he had a definite and abiding
thirst for a liquid, though of a dark color.
It was early, but Kavita could see her son knew
how to get his way.
For Nithin there was no shortage of intellectual
stimuli: Trips to a variety of museums, to places
like Hawaii, and further afield, to Switzerland,
France, England, Mexico, and, of course, India.
Nithin’s maternal grandfather, Sughanatha
Reddy, a plant pathologist in India, may have
done his bit to stoke his grandson’s interest in science, showing him the planets through a telescope.
Back home in Port Huron, Nithin announced that he wanted to make a telescope for his third grade project at the
Keewahdin Elementary School.
Kavita suggested they start reading up. She had her own
trouble understanding the concepts of reflection and refraction and they took the matter to a local optometrist.
Nithin did not win a prize, but he had learned how to learn
— an art that escapes many older than him, many ostensibly
wiser than him.
For the next project, Kavita put her foot down.
‘I am only going to help you in typing,’ she told him, asking
him to do the research. She did buy him all the material
He never won a prize in the third, fourth or fifth grades.
Nithin was doing well academically, doing his advance
placement biology in his sixth grade. He was already influenced by DNA: The Secret of Life, by James Watson, the co-discoverer of that molecule.
He later met Watson at an Indian physicians’ meeting in
New York. That, Nithin said, influenced him to get into
That same year, he put together a project about environment and global warming from scratch. But it was no go. And
his luck did not change the next year, either.
Nithin began getting more intense by the eighth grade, and
went on, powered by a doughty and perhaps bitter cussed-
A family celebration of Nithin Tumma’s achievements. With Nithin’s intellect, he can make a difference, his
COUR TES Y: THE TUMMAS
‘Want him to lead
a life that makes
Kavita and Suresh Tumma share
their experiences of raising
a winner with P Rajendran.
“He would never copy from anyone. It was all himself,”
Still, Nithin was beginning to learn that in the real world
form often and convincingly triumphed over substance.
‘This is not right. Everyone is copying off from Google,’ he
would tell Kavita.
And she would sagely respond, ‘The most important thing
in life is doing it by yourself.’
Perhaps a little mollifed, Nithin started work on a microbi-
ology project at the Port Huron hospital, where she worked,
trying to find if bacteria became resistant to soap after
repeated exposure to disinfectants.
Luck joined talent and perseverance and he won the first
prize. So the next year, he worked on a more complex microbiology project, that saw him go for an international science fair in Reno, Nevada.
According to Kavita, “That is when he changed as a person.”
He saw children working in a lab there and came back to
tell his parents of that novel vision.
‘We live in such a small town; we need to work in a lab,’ he
told them, before getting down to send e-
mail to doctors and professionals in
Detroit and Ann Arbor.
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