I am Alive!
As an alumnus of the first ever Young Technology Scholars (YTS) batch, my mind teems with memories of the two most amazing weeks I spent in the summer of 2018. My heart swells with pride whenever I look back at this journey. If anything, the program always had me at the edge of my seat, from the application process early in the year to the actual summer course in June. Even now while going through my books, sitting in my school lectures, I cannot help but be at the edge of my desk, jumping to ask questions and cater to my intuition.
A realization which occurred to me during the course, and one that stuck with me, was a simple yet intriguing one – The YTS program was not trying to teach us a particular concept of Physics, Chemistry or Biology (even though it did achieve that as well) – it was to provide us with a perspective of education as a whole, and for us to re-think and build our own interpretation of it.
I admit: waking up at 6:30 in the morning was not the most fun thing to do. But having three other people in the room groaning and going through the same pain definitely made it easier! To add to that, fifty-five students from various parts of India and abroad, all united by their love of science (or perhaps just learning), made it not only completely worth it, but something I looked forward to every morning.
Our professors’ lectures were quite interesting, always asking us for our inputs and ideas. We did not have any exams but were motivated instead to open our minds and think critically. The classes were anything but boring: Each day we were presented with a question, a challenge, or something to ponder upon. We found ourselves discussing a range of topics, many of them unexpected, from Number Theory to haikus, URLs to amino acids and telescopes to autonomous driving. I could not help but feel overwhelmed by the overdose of knowledge, but at the same time, also curious – researching and inquiring about them. In one class, we would sharpen our coding skills, typing away at the computer, while in the other we would stress our minds to draw and design various figures and shapes. These were then printed out using a 3-D Printer in the Design Lab! From chess-pieces and key-chains to Batman’s Batarang to Thor’s Hammer, all of us had designed our own mementos to carry home.
I think the practical and hands-on element of our projects was quite refreshing as compared to the conventional textbook learning experience I had grown so accustomed to at school. Our projects gave me the chance to actually apply my knowledge to testing and prototyping, rather than wondering if I would ever use the information I was acquiring. This, accompanied by the cycle- assembly workshop, was truly an enriching experience.
The guest lecturers who arrived in the first week gave us an insight into their lives, the ups and downs, their challenges and the ways they pushed through them. The one lecture I liked the most was by Prof. M. Balakrishnan from IIT Delhi who talked about his solution, “The SmartCane”, a device he had developed with his team to solve the challenges faced by visually impaired people.
The first week concluded in a stylish way – with a talent show. While everyone had chosen their acts with their respective partners, I was stuck with no clue, let alone any idea whatsoever. But then a knight in shining armour, my roommate Udayaditya, came to my aid. While I was jamming to one of my favourites, he sat at the desk tapping away with his pen. Yes, you read that right! He was a skilled drummer, but also an expert in something he called ‘Pen Tapping’. Though he was not as enthusiastic about it and kept saying “This is why I do not have a girlfriend”, to everyone else, his was a rare and an interestingly unique talent. I jokingly told him, “By the end of tonight, you might just!”. The talent show was a blast with me rapping to one of Drake’s songs and him pen tapping, while the audience cheered and applauded. We had plenty of other students too, who came on stage and performed in the Talent Show.
The second week was perhaps one of the most brain-racking times of my life. I opted to build an Electro-cardiograph from scratch.
Yes, from scratch.
We were divided into groups and I was fortunate to be placed next to two bright minds, Ananth and Gomathi. We brainstormed upon the material requirements, the process, the programming, the execution and the possible errors. At the end of the second week, for the Demo Day of the program where all parents were invited, my team chose me to be the ‘lab rat for the testing’ (though I prefer the word ‘pioneer’). With the electrodes attached to my arms and legs, and the wires connected to the computer running our self-written program, my mind was bombarded with uncertainty, questions and fear of failure. The result was not what we had expected. We were represented with inaccurate readings and haywire graphs. But we strived to rectify the issues with an improved code, fixed the sensors and sat down to test once again. And as soon as I saw the green distinguished line over the black background, which could only be identified as my heartbeat, I realized that in that moment, I may have reached the scientific epitome of my 14-year life.
“I am alive!”, I cried.
“You’re alive!”, Gomathi approved, pointing towards the graph line moving across the monitor.