A Student Sows the Seeds of Innovation

By Sean Cavanagh — November 12, 2009 1 min read
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Over the years, I’ve heard of many enterprising teachers who’ve sought to build students’ science skills while also teaching them about the world of entrepreneurship. When I read about a teenager named Adarsha Shivakumar, I came away thinking he could teach a course on the subject.

Shivakumar, whose family hails from India, is a sophomore at the College Preparatory School in Oakland, Calif. During his periodic trips to his grandparents’ farm in the southern part of India, he grew increasingly frustrated by the prevailing poverty, the disappearance of trees from the landscape, and the overall environmental degradation. Much of the tree loss in the region, he found, stems from tobacco farming, which requires a lot of firewood for the heating and curing of tobacco leaves. That process also generates a lot of pollution.

So Shivakumar started looking for alternatives. He heard of Jatropha curcas, a small shrub, and saw a possible solution. While you can’t eat Jatropha seeds, they produce biodiesel fuel, which is already in use in India. The plant can also be produced in little soil, with little water and fertilizer, and it can prevent erosion.

The teenager has partnered with various organizations in India to distribute Jatropha seedlings there and help farmer grow and sell the crop on their own, and give them an alternative to tobacco farming. Shivakumar has invested in the project in more ways than one: He used prize money from a spelling bee he won in California to buy seedlings from a biotech company and distribute them to women’s self-help groups who have helped promote the project.

I learned of Shivakumar’s work from his first-person account in Imagine magazine, a publication of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Last week, I wrote about the center’s efforts to connect students with research scientists through live events, including one focused on swine flu and other pandemics, and through other Web tools.

Here’s a link to Shivakumar’s story, which students and teachers can look to for inspiration, ideas for science projects, or both.

Photo courtesy of Adarsha Shivakumar for Imagine magazine.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.