Saturday Symposium

The anticipation had been building and Saturday was finally here. Today was the day of the big presentation at the World Food Prize. Like I have mentioned in previous blogs, I had done all the research and written the paper, so the presentation should have been the easiest part, and in some ways it was, but it was also one of the most interesting and thought-provoking because I got to learn about so many different problems.

Saturday morning I woke up and dressed in business-casual attire. When I arrived at DuPont Pioneer, the lobby was packed with all the students and experts signing in. Since I had arrived an hour early, I had the opportunity to look at the various presentations prepared by the student interns from the previous years. Just through their descriptions of the research they had done the previous summer, I felt as though I had traveled to Ethiopia, Nepal, Thailand, Guatemala, India, and several other countries. After taking this mini world tour, everyone was shuttled into the auditorium where a welcome speech was given before the different groups broke off with their respective experts.

The round-table discussion I was a part of, was fascinating. From Honduras, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to India, I got to hear a wide range of issues that impacted food insecurity. As different as these countries had originally seemed to be, they were united with the reoccurring themes of a lack of educations, government corruption, and water scarcity.

At the conclusion of this discussion, we summed up our research, and as my group’s leader, I presented our solutions when the entire group reconvened. Following the discussion I got the chance to meet renowned scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan who had traveled from India specifically for the World Food Prize. I was honored to have a conversation with him and partake in research relevant to his work.

Following this symposium we all sat for lunch. At this lunch I met kids from across the country and was surprised to find such commonalities between individuals living so far from one another. For example, I met a girl from California who happened to have researched the same topic as me, participated in many of the same extracurricular as me, and was able to fluently converse with me in a foreign language.

Traveling is always an amazing experience. Even if you are only two hours away from your home, you can meet others from around the world, and truly have a global, cultural experience!

Very proud of Sweta for being selected for the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute.

World Food Prize

My birthday is on May 16th, and this year, the best gift I got, was an email informing me that I had been selected to participate in the Global Youth Institute (GYI), part of the World Food Prize that occurs in October. Since then my anticipation and eagerness for the event has dramatically grown. So you can guess how excited I was last week as I packed my bags to travel to Des Moines for this three day conference.

The drive there was a soothing way for me to get ready for the 3 days ahead of me. After checking into our hotel, and changing into the standard green-polo given to each of the GYI students, my teacher and I headed over to the Marriot hotel where most of the events would be taking place. From the moment I walked in I was mesmerized. The flags of each of the countries from around the world bordered each stairwell and a huge banner hung from the top floor of the hotel to the bottom with an intricate weaving of a woman harvesting a field. I stood for a few moments, mouth-ajar, just taking in the whole scene. When we got to the second floor, where all the panel discussions and talks would be taking place, security checked me in and handed me a head piece that would translate some of the speeches that were being delivered in a different language. That was when I really understood the magnitude of this conference.

Later that day I met my group which was largely diverse: we had people from California, North Carolina, and even Canada. We got to tour the World Food Prize building that was decorated with stunning pictures of people in living conditions far worse than I have been used to.

That night was the big watch party. All of the GYI students crowded into a room to watch the live telecast of the World Food Prize award Ceremony. Dr.Sanjay Rajaram was ceremoniously awarded the prize (equivalent to a Nobel Prize in agrarian research pertaining to food insecurity). The recipient had an Indian origin but had done all of his research in Mexico, so in honor of that, they had a cultural performance by an Indian girl singing Latino music.

The following day, I met a farmer from the region that I had researched and was able to have an in-depth conversation with him about problem he faced regarding food productivity. It was really encouraging to hear that many of the solutions I had suggested in my paper were beginning to be implemented.

Later the GYI students traveled to a food packaging site. Within 2 hours, we had packed 24,000 meals, showing us the power of teams and collaboration. All these meals were then sent to Libya to aid food insecure individuals. It was a great traveling experience.

Outreach meal packaging!!! #thenextnorm #quadsquad #bestteameverrrr #selfieBobbi Fogle's photo.

Food Insecurity

By 2050 9 billion people are expected to inhabit our planet. Quality of living is also expected to rise substantially. What does this mean? Food production needs to increase 3 fold in the next 35 years.

This issue, that has often been brought up in my human geography and environmental science classes, called for a global conference recently. The World Food Prize held in Des Moines, Iowa, annually brings farmers, scientists, political leaders, and students together from around the country, and around the world. For an entire week, the issue of global food insecurity is discussed through a series of panel discussions, lectures, conferences, and symposiums. With farmland shrinking and population increasing, our generation must come up with a solution to feed all the people on our planet.

As part of the Global Youth Institute (GYI) I had the privilege to confer with these experts and present the research that I had done. The GYI is a program tagged along to the back-end of the World Food Prize, to encourage the youth to pursue the agrarian field and help solve the inevitable issue of food insecurity with a growing population. In January, I picked a country and a factor that affects food insecurity there and based on the research I conducted about the chosen topic, I wrote a paper. This paper addressed the life of a typical farmer in the regions, how the factor impacts food productivity, and plausible solutions for the presented issue.

My research began when I heard the Mannevaru family story, the plight of a small, rural farm family from the south-Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. They experienced year, after year, of disappointing agricultural yields. While the reoccurring low yields was a culmination of a variety of factors, a major concern was water scarcity. So I decided to write my paper about water scarcity in Andhra Pradesh.

Over the course of two months, as I wrote the paper, I felt as though I had taken a trip to India myself, and interacted with these farmers who had been decimated by water scarcity. I was in the fields planting the rice paddies, anxiously awaiting harvest. I was with the Chandra Reddy family, celebrating when the Rural Livelihood Project entered the Medak District and helped save the family farm.

In the process of writing this paper, I fell in love with the land of Andhra Pradesh and cultivated a passion within me for the well-being of these farmers.

Molly’s Cupcakes

Sticking with this week’s theme about Iowa City and all things related, let us take a magical trip to a local business with the best cupcakes you have ever eaten. Molly’s Cupcakes, ranked among the top 10 in the nation, has a reputation for a wide variety of cupcake flavors, and savory treats that leave you longing for more. The cute store is wedged in the midst of a strip of stores opposite to the Pentacrest on the University of Iowa campus.

The store has warm furniture with soft round curves and innovative designs. The smells are ever-welcoming. Besides the cupcakes, there are also a variety of coffees that are brewed at the same location. The swing seats also serve as a fun entertainment for kids who run through the doors daily, dragging the parents, the store’s real business, with them.

To give you an idea, there is a crème brûlée cupcake, s’mores cupcake, a cookie monster cupcake, and many more varieties. The ganache toppings are thick, rich, and creamy, adding to the taste of the cupcakes.

Overall the quaint shop and delicious cupcakes truly convinces me that Molly’s Cupcakes is top in the nation. On my most recent visit to the store, I ordered a chocolate raspberry cupcake, savoring the contrast of the sweet chocolate with the bitter sweetness of the texturized raspberries inside the cupcake. I felt like I had taken a trip to heaven and back after I finished that cupcake. The only evidence of there ever being a cupcake was a little chocolate around my mouth J. If you ever get the chance, I would strongly recommend visiting a Molly’s Cupcakes, near you!

Kuchipudi

After going to lab on Sunday, I got to go to my first real dance class in 3 years.

I began learning classical Indian dance forms when I was five. I had always wanted to dance, and living in India for a few years, intrigued me about the unique art forms I saw. As I began my dance career, I realized that dance would not only be a fun and disciplining outlet for me, but also a way for me to maintain cultural ties with my heritage.

When I turned 9, my dance journey took a new twist. I began a new form of classical Indian dance called Kuchipudi. I immediately fell in love with the art form. My teacher, Dr. Chitra Akkor, taught in a strict, structured manner, but also cultivated my passion for the art form. Under her guidance I did my Rangapravesham when I was going into 8th grade. Unfortunately, the day after I finished my Rangapravesham she moved to New Hampshire for a career development opportunity.

Since then I have lacked proper instruction in my dance. I have attempted to stay in touch with dance by teaching my own students, learning dances from videos, performing, and infrequent classes with master dancers. But the last time I had a master class was during a visit to India three years ago.

A few weeks ago, my mom got an email informing her that professional dancer Shoba Natarajan, was coming to Iowa City for one Sunday and running a trial class. Needless to say, when I found out, I was thrilled. I practiced daily for the week leading up to Shoba Natarajan’s arrival.

When the day finally arrived, I wore my traditional garb and set out, slightly apprehensive. When I met her, she promised to fine tune my foundations and a few of my dances in the time she had. I forgot the sheer joy I experience when I am in a professional dance class amongst other students. I had also forgotten the intensity of dance classes and was initially thrown off by her astoundingly fast pace.

Just a few steps into the 2 hour practice, I was practically dripping sweat. Despite the exhaustion and fatigue that the dance class induced, I was unimaginably happy because Shoba Natarajan was able to catch and pinpoint the subtle differences I could make to add maturity and perfection to my dance. As we worked on the foundations, I learned new analogies and stories that I could use to help my students perform the steps with more grace. She showed me that simply changing the angle of a step by a few degrees can affect the grace the step embodies. She concluded the class by telling my mother that I had a lot of potential waiting to be uncovered. Shoba Natarajan also invited me to come to her dance studio to come and take classes any time.

Walking out of that class I felt energized. The atmosphere, clothing, and dance made me nostalgic about when I when I had first begun learning dance. I really miss having regular dance classes. Despite this longing, my passion had only increased, and I am now determined to continue dancing and make it work!

kuchipudi

Lab

Sebastian De Pasquale’s talk reminded me to appreciate the opportunity that I have. Every weekend I go to Iowa City and work at a lab in the anatomy and cell biology department at the University of Iowa. Working in the Tootle Lab, I get to research the model organism: Drosophila (fruit flies). I do basic research regarding the structure and function of a specific protein in the nucleus of cells, called actin.

I greatly appreciate this opportunity, however, when I first started working in this lab over the summer, I was overwhelmed. The first thing that really caught my attention was the fly room which is engulfed in over 1000 fly stocks. The carbon dioxide tank stood in the corner and six lab members sat at their respective benches, sorting, feeding, and dissecting the fruit flies. Now, however, that fly room is a familiar environment. It became my training room and my new home. I have spent over 100 hours in that room carrying out various experiments.

For the past few weeks, I have spent an extensive amount of time in the fly room in preparation of creating a Western Blot. First I sorted the virgin female flies and set up crosses so the females mated with males of a specific genotypes. I then fed the flies so they remained healthy and productive. After the flies had been fed well for about a week, I dissected over 80 flies to get my protein sample. I created the specific gels required to run a Western blot. All of this prep work occurred over the course of a few weeks. Finally on Sunday I got to do my first western blot. Having read about western blots in AP Biology the previous year, having watched several lab members make western blots, having read the protocol multiple times, and having done all the prep, I was extremely excited to finally be able to do one myself. With the assistance of my PI, I set up the gels and loaded the samples. I was very nervous for this initial step because a practiced and steady hand is needed. Though I took a fair amount of time, I successfully loaded the samples without any cross-contamination. I navigated through the nerve-racking process of transferring my gel to a nitrocellulose sheet without any major mistakes. When the process was completed and all the analysis had been taken care of, I cannot express how relieving it was to see that the gel had turned out well. The data was usable and I had completed my first western blot. A productive Sunday in my opinion!

Astro-Physics

Schools constantly attempt to upgrade and improve their current systems. This year my school made quite a dramatic change and introduced what is called S.M.A.R.T lunch. This idea was adopted from other schools like Wake County. S.M.A.R.T Lunch is an 80 minute period in the middle of the school day when students can eat while attending tutorials, lectures, or seminars to enhance their learning opportunities. To start off our lecture series, this Wednesday, Sebastian De Pascuale, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, came to my high school and gave a talk about his research and the path he took to get to his current position. As a junior in high school, I am finally beginning to think about my future, including my college and career options. Mr. Pascuale’s talk, helped me understand how a person’s passions and dreams can all tie together and provide that person with a bright future. Keeping his audience in mind, Mr. Pascuale discussed how his passion for science was ignited and how he nurtured that interest. In the lecture, he took us through his journey. He first got interested in outer space when he went to an observatory in high school. From there, he went to college in Grinnell, researched in California for a summer, and ended up at the University of Iowa for graduate school. Throughout the talk, Mr. Pascuale emphasized the importance of seeking out opportunities and appreciating each chance. Though he initially started with a passion in astrology, he fine-tuned that interest to focus specifically on astro-physics. He is now working towards his doctoral thesis. In the question and answer session following his talk, I asked Mr. Pascuale about how he decided on which colleges to apply to and ultimately which one to attend. In his animated discussion, he took me through his journey, and gave me insight as to what to really value in a college. This experience has helped me get a better understanding for my future and how to go about setting my path. player_DePascuale_0062-hs