WASHINGTON: If you want to see why folks of Indian-origin - NRIs, PIOs, ABCDs, call them what you will - are hitting the high spots in academic achievement and entrepreneurial excellence, the Science Fair that President Obama is hosting at the White House on Wednesday provides a fair clue.
Nearly a third of the projects, demos, and experiments in the jamboree involve kids of Indian-origin, and they provide a window into how this ethnic group, along with other Asian-Americans, has come to dominate school-level STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) competitions, including events hosted by companies such as Intel, Google, and Westinghouse. The White House bash is now the acme of high-school STEM endeavors.
None of this should be new to President Obama, whose frequent hosting of such STEM galas in the White House has seen a fair sprinkling of Indian-American honorees, from his recognition of Stanford's Pune-born Tom Kailath with the Presidential Medal for Science, to his schmoozing with high-schoolers Shree Bose and Anand Srinivasan, who went on to Harvard and MIT respectively. He just seems to love it, and ahead of what will be the sixth and final science fair he will be hosting for school grads, he explained his motivation as follows: "If you win the NCAA (sports) championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you're a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too."
Few students take this challenge - and invitation - more seriously than Indian-Americans, most of them children of parents who are themselves steeped in STEM. This year's finalists who will be at the White House includes Yashaswini Makaram, 17, of Massachusetts, who has created a new cell phone security tool that records the distinctive arm and hand motions people use to lift a cell phone from a table to uniquely identify the cell phone's owner. To date, the technology correctly identifies a cell phone's owner 85 per cent of the time and differentiates among people with 93 percent accuracy. Yashaswini's biometric research, which was recognized as part of the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search, may lead to greater personalization of mobile devices, according to a White House factsheet