June 8th, 2021

GiS Spotlight: Junior Scientist awardee Anish Sundaram

Each year, we honor 5 outstanding submissions from 7th and 8th graders with Junior Scientist Awards. This year, earning a Junior Scientist Award was no easy feat — more than half of the 630 proposals we received were submitted by middle school teams!

Today, we shine the GiS Spotlight on one JSA winner: Anish Sundaram (13) from The Pierrepont School in Westport, CT, who wants to help protect space travelers from cancer.

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What was the focus of your experiment? I chose to study the caveolin protein (encoded by the CAV1 gene), which acts as a tumor suppressor in many carcinomas. CAV1 has been shown to be downregulated in microgravity. My idea was that perhaps overexpressing CAV1 in microgravity could reduce the increased cancer risk that comes with long-term space travel.

Why did you choose to participate in Genes in Space? I’ve always been passionate about biology and in particular, neuroscience and genetics. Therefore, when I found out about Genes in Space through my inspiring teacher Peniel Dimberu, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about these topics as well as to get experience designing scientific experiments.

In addition, I have always been fascinated by the future of space exploration. Astronauts are willing to sacrifice their well-being to help us unlock the mysteries in the universe. Cancer is one of the major risks in space travel. I have always been interested in contributing to the advancement of science so we can protect the humans that venture out into space.

How did you choose your topic? I started researching my proposal after reading the NASA twin study on Scott and Mark Kelly. I was looking to find a connection between the topics I study in science and real life problems related to space travel. From there, I learned about CAV1 and the role it plays in cancer as well the negative effect of space travel on its expression.

What did you gain by participating in Genes in Space? I uncovered a new way of thinking about scientific research. I now realize that in order to make any sort of breakthrough, one must pay attention to the slightest details that make up the experiment. My proposal is built around the idea of under-expression of the CAV1 gene and without understanding the minute details of why it is under-expressed, I wouldn’t fully understand this problem at the depth I do now.

Do you have any advice for future Genes in Space contestants? Do what you are passionate about and always try to learn from others, especially those that may know more than you like teachers and scientists. Science is not a solo venture, we must work together at every step of researching and writing the experimental proposal.