Saturday, January 20, 2018
Education

St. Petersburg High student speaks on biotechnology at a Toronto conference

ST. PETERSBURG — When St. Petersburg High School student Harsha Kuchampudi learned he had been selected to give a "TED" talk in Canada, he didn't go around bragging.

In fact one of his teachers, Jamie Day, only learned about the honor because he heard another student mention it.

"He never would have told any of us," Day said with a chuckle.

Kuchampudi, 17, is a senior in the International Baccalaureate program who is described as humble, polite and "very, very bright," as Day put it.

But last Thursday he stepped into an international spotlight.

Kuchampudi spoke at a conference known as [email protected], a name that may require some translation. It was a conference formed in the spirit of TED lectures — talks on "Technology, Engineering, Design," which have become extremely popular on the Internet. This conference, at the York School in Toronto, was for students in IB programs, as well as adults. And the somewhat vague theme was: "Taking on the World."

IB teachers spread word of the opportunity, and Kuchampudi decided to apply. Some of his own life experiences made him settle on the topic of biotechnology.

Kuchampudi has volunteered at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, where he assisted in the clinical research unit. Most of the time he helped nurses and patients, but "every now and then I got the opportunity to go watch the biomedical engineers and it was really fascinating."

He also got the chance to be an intern with the University of South Florida's Ecosystems Technology Group, under scientist David Fries, who uses an underwater rover that can take scientific measurements and report them out via Twitter.

After learning to his delight that he had been selected to attend the conference, Kuchampudi gave his talk at the Toronto School on Wednesday, telling the audience — in person and online — that "biotechnology can truly revolutionize the world."

For example, he said, genetically modified crops can be much more resistant to droughts or flooding, providing food even in difficult times. He said he saw the importance of this on a family trip to India, when a rough monsoon system increased the price of rice, so "there was much tension between the government and the people."

Biotechnology also can be used to monitor the health of the oceans, he said, and told his audience about his experience with USF's underwater rover. Similar rovers could monitor pollution levels in seas across the globe, he said.

"The longer we wait to take more efficient actions to reduce pollution levels in our world's oceans, the more we risk losing the diversity of the species," he said.

Kuchampudi said he enjoyed speaking at the conference and hearing others offer "truly a unique perspective on taking on the world's most difficult problems."

Meanwhile, back at St. Petersburg High, teachers in several classes allowed their students to watch Kuchampudi's talk via the Internet. Until a fire drill interrupted it. Fortunately, the students were able to catch the rest of his talk after returning to the building.

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