Sixteen-Year-Old Prodigy (April 30, 2013)

Ian Rose   Molecules

As a well-spoken extrovert who avoids pretentious language, junior Arjun Jaini does not quite fit the stereotype of a 16-year-old science prodigy; however, his groundbreaking findings in the field of computational chemistry have unquestionably established him as one of the most gifted young scientists in the country.
     Jaini’s affinity for science has been a constant throughout his life.  While he always enjoyed participating in school science fairs and, in his free time, making biodiesel in the back of his shed for his truck, he never expected to be at the center of an exciting discovery.
     After being impressed by a tour of the University of Richmond last year, Jaini readily accepted an offer of a summer internship on the school’s campus.  Though at the time he was a rising high school junior, he greatly outperformed his older counterparts within a few hours of his arrival, and was taken aside to begin a more challenging assignment.
    His new task involved pinpointing the transition state of molecules.  The transition state is essentially the state of a molecule between the reactant stage and the product stage.  This was previously thought to be impossible.
    “If you can characterize the transition state you can characterize the properties of the molecule,” Jaini explained.
    To the surprise of the professors running the internship, he was successful in characterizing the transition state.   By the time the internship ended, he was offered a position, working nine-to-five as a research fellow, a job which he currently balances with high school.  He spent the rest of his summer exploring the profound implications of his success.
    “With the transition state I characterized, I could create any molecule and test whether it could destroy cancer cells,” Jaini said.
    By the end of the summer, he was working with several molecules that could destroy cancer cells.  
    As a result of the remarkable success of his research, Jaini has spent much of his time traveling and presenting his findings at various conventions.  He often faces the daunting task of convincing much older distinguished members of the scientific community to take him and, ultimately, his findings, seriously.
   “The biggest problem is that during the first two minutes no one believes me,” Jaini said.
   Understandably, audiences are usually taken aback by the fact that he is only 16 years old.
   “People are usually shocked or confused,” he said.
   However, his confident salesman-like outlook helps him win over many of those who either doubt his findings or the extent of his involvement.  Jaini proudly remembers when he exchanged business cards with the chief scientific officer of a leading pharmaceutical company.
   Jaini somehow manages to stay grounded, balancing the burdens of adolescence and high school with what seems like a second life, relentlessly traveling to support his groundbreaking research amidst the judgmental world of the adult scientific community.


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