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Popular Mechanics Recognizes Dublin High School’s Kumaran Ratnam with “Visionary” Breakthrough Award

October 17, 2014
Kumaran Ratnam and Family

Kumaran Ratnam and Family

Popular Mechanics Magazine recently recognized Dublin High School sophomore Kumaran Ratnam with a “Next Generation: Future Breakthrough Award“.  But before sharing the details of that recognition, let’s start at the beginning.

Earlier this spring, we featured a Dublin High School freshman, newly transplanted native from the Boston area Kumaran Ratnam. Mr. Ratnam and his family had moved from the east coast and settled in Dublin in mid-2013. This move was made largely to take advantage of career opportunities for his parents, Karu and Devi. Karu settled in professionally at Cisco and Devi attained her position at Oracle. But, we learned in March that both the Ratnam children are high achievers. Kumaran and his younger sister, Jayani received early exposure to scientific competitions and both of them relished the opportunities to participate.

A key element of the freshman Biology with Research course at Dublin High School is to present either an individual or group research project at the Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair in March 2013. Kumaran seized this opportunity to explore a rather provocative concept. While he was touched by the condition of Macular Degeneration by a member of his own family, he chose to explore a remedy to this condition that could be improved. While a prosthetic exists to help treat this condition, the surgical replacement of batteries can be quite painful to the patient. He researched alternatives to this concept and theorized that the Piezo electric concept might serve as a reasonable alternative and might serve as a continuous source of renewable energy to serve the device. This theory is based upon a platform that could continuously harvest energy based upon sound and/or vibration.

The results from his research/project yielded a great reward. The ACSE fair recognizes many participants. However, in the elite class, there were only four individuals recognized in the Grand Prize category. Kumaran was one of them. As part of his reward, he was selected to take his project into further competition at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles this summer. It was perhaps the best of all worlds: pursuing one’s dreams and being acknowledged for doing it. recently had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Ratnam and his family to discuss this recent honor. And we spoke with his parents to understand how they influenced his current path. Subsequent to the Alameda County Fair Science Fair, please describe your experience in participating in the ISEF in Los Angeles.  Please include details with your expectations/experience/and outcome.

Kumaran Ratnam Popular MechanicsKumran Ratnam: “I attended the Intel International Science and Engineering fair (ISEF), held in Los Angeles. Attending the fair was an experience I greatly treasure. The fair had definitely exceeded my expectations, and I was amazed at how it went. During the fair, I got the chance to meet many new people from all over the world, including six Nobel Prize Laureates, whom I was able to talk to. Having done so was definitely something I will forever remember. The outcome of the Intel ISEF was indeed great. Thanks to my project, I was awarded a full ride scholarship to Arizona State University, along with a small research intern opportunity. I never expected to attend ISEF in my freshman year, but having done so has definitely been the most exiting experience I have ever taken.” Please explain the process in July when you were contacted by Popular Mechanics magazine.  You mentioned an initial phone interview – how and why were they intrigued by your hypothesis.  Subsequent to the phone interview, how did they reach out to you and notify you of your honor?  How did that make you feel?

Kumaran Ratnam Science Fair ProjectRatnam: “In July, while working with Professor Rizzo, from Harvard University, Popular Mechanics contacted me. They wanted to interview me for the possible inclusion in their magazine! Of course, I wanted to have my project be in the Popular Mechanics magazine, for which I wrote back with my thanks for this opportunity. They informed me that my project intrigued their interests because of the many people who would be affected by the idea, and how this idea could apply to many other applications. They later contacted me by phone for an interview on my project, and what it has become. I was contacted recently with the news that they were able to put my project up on their online edition, alongside eight other breakthrough projects, for which I was very thankful. I felt as though since the time of the Alameda County Science and Engineering fair, my project has developed into something much bigger than I anticipated, and I am thankful for the many opportunities I was offered due to its success.” Your thesis on the Piezo Element has promise for future applications.  Describe how your work is continuing on this project with your new colleagues in Boston.

Ratnam: “During the second half of July and first half of August I traveled alone to Boston Massachusetts, to work with Professor Joseph Rizzo on my project. During my time in Boston, I was able to greatly expand upon my idea, to a whole new level. I was able to talk to multiple colleagues of Professor Rizzo, one of whom is a surgeon at Massachusetts General, and the other is a professor at MIT, who provided me with lab space. Through this, I gained a vast variety of knowledge on attachment procedures, types of piezo fibers, a more detailed anatomy of the extra ocular muscle (eye muscles). This contributed to me to coming up with a lot more new ideas.” Take some time to describe how your parents have influenced your exploration of technology – both as a hobby and also as a potential vocation.

Ratnam: “My parents definitely had a big impact on where I am today. Throughout my life, they have encouraged me to pursue my goals, especially science. Even when I was in elementary school, my parents signed me up for small competitions, many of which I still remember today. One competition that sticks out is Destination Imagination, which was the first competition where I attended a International Level conference. I feel as though my interest in becoming a biomedical engineer was greatly influenced by their actions. In the 6th grade, I attended a Robotics competition, where our team placed 4th in the state competition. Our robot prototype was a nanobot with the theoretical potential to ‘cure’ cancer. This project stuck to me, because it was my first biomedical project”

As this is a follow up story, we felt that it would be important to gain the perspective from Kumaran’s parent to help to understand how they have positively influenced his development. It was a fascinating exercise and we are pleased to share this background. Father Karu is a Software Engineer at Cisco Systems. He attained advanced degrees from the Northeastern and the University of Alabama in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Mother Devi also accomplished an undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering degree from the University of Toronto and a M.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. While contemplating a relocation to the SF Bay Area, help us to understand how you decided to reside in Dublin.

Karu Ratnam: “Dublin offers small city charm, relatively affordable housing, great schools and public transportation to San Jose / San Francisco.” As parents to Kumaran and Jayani, did each of you have an approach or plan to help them succeed academically?  If so, please describe.

Devi Ratnam: “To be successful academically or in any extra-curricular activities our children have to put their heart in to it. Our job is to show them the opportunities out there and provide them chances to try out something on their own. We hope these science fairs and other exposures will help them make better academic and career choices based on their interest and strengths.” As current technologists, what is your view upon where 21st century careers will gravitate?  What are the specific sectors that will command the greatest growth?

Karu Ratnam: “STEM fields are still going to be the growth areas of the future as it is now. In my area of work, Internet of Things, where every unique item, like signal lights on a street or rain sensors in a garden are connected to the internet to achieve greater level of automation and efficiency.” How are you helping both Kumaran and Jayani to balance their academic rigor with opportunities for creative/extra-curricular growth?

Devi Ratnam: “We strongly believe that children have to learn to balance their academic work and extra-curricular activities as part of daily routine.  From very young age both Kumaran and Jayani have been doing some sort of extra activities. When children have limited time they tend to work very efficiently. There are few occasions we have seen them overwhelmed when a game or a music performance overlap with other deadlines. By going through these cycles we believe they will learn to manage their time better.” As a relatively new transplanted family from the east coast, what has been your overall impression of transitioning your children into the Dublin Unified School District?

Devi Ratnam: “We are glad we chose Dublin as our home town. We are impressed by the course offerings here in Dublin High School. There are many options for each track. The PLTW track for engineering academy and bio-medical academy are excellent. I am sure DHS in one of the very few schools that offers these choices.”

So, we are not attempting to place a postscript on Kumaran’s story. Rather, we are hopeful that his future discoveries that will benefit us all. would like to thank Mr. Ratnam for his willingness to share his accomplishments and for his family to share their thoughts on their odyssey. You can never know what participation in the Science Fair might yield.

  1. bala talkad permalink
    October 18, 2014 12:22 pm

    Congratulations, Kumaran! Wish you the very best and success in achieving many awards of this kind going forward.

    • Michael Utsumi permalink
      October 18, 2014 9:00 pm

      Bala, thank you for your positive comments. Kumaran is a special young man and is supported by an equally remarkable family. He’ll receive many accolades in his future.


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