NASA Recognizes High School Student’s Research Project at SU

 Hari Nanthakumar

August 15, 2017

He is the lead author on a published scientific study, his research has been recognized by NASA – and Hari Nanthakumar does not even have his driver’s license yet. Nanthakumar, currently a senior at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, called the College of Engineering and Computer Science last year to see if any research opportunities were available. He was connected with chemical engineering Professor Ian Hosein.

“I looked at Dr. Hosein’s research and I loved it,” said Nanthakumar.

Nanthakumar started working as a researcher in Hosein’s lab in Link Hall.

“With Hari it was a completely independent project, he took complete ownership of it, managed the setup, improving it designing the materials, optimizing it and showing it had wonderful properties,” said Hosein.

Their work focused on using multiple L.E.D. lights projected through tiny holes to change the structure of a polymer gel into a lightweight but durable solid material.

“When it hardens, you can create these fibers – and when you have multiple lights coming in different directions though each hole, you have an interconnected structure,” said Nanthakumar. “It can be used in automobile engineering, aerospace engineering, pretty much any structural component, anything that is lightweight and strong – the opportunities are pretty much endless.”

Hari was one of only a handful of teens from Upstate New York selected to present at the 2017 International Science Fair.

“It is a high school science fair but the work we are doing is world class research. That is what makes Hari’s work so interesting,” said Hosein.

Hari’s work attracted some big names at the International Science Fair.

“NASA came to my project and they interviewed and they saw something they liked,” said Nanthakumar.

NASA gave Nanthakumar’s work an honorable mention. Nanthakumar’s work also received some recognition that is extremely rare for a high school student. In June, he was the lead author when the research was published in the Results in Physics Journal.

“I was really grateful that it cleared all the hurdles,” said Nanthakumar.

Nanthakumar is still working to advance his research and believes it could be a cost effective alternative to producing durable cellular based solid structures.

“He could also lead this on to a startup company, the possibilities are endless,” said Hosein. “I never expected a high school student to be a world leader in advanced materials fabrication.”

Nanthakumar is incredibly grateful for the faculty, staff and students in the College of Engineering and Computer Science who brought him into their research lab.

“It was amazing from the top down. Whenever I needed help I could go to Dr. Hosein, the PHD students always helped, the master’s students always helped,” said Nanthakumar. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it without this environment. They have all helped a tremendous amount.”

Hari is getting ready for his senior year of high school, spending time with friends and sharing stories about their summer jobs.

“I would tell them how I made titanium micro trusses and they were so surprised I was able to do this.”