When Nikita (neuroscience, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Bangalore, India, began her research project, she decided to focus on an emerging health issue that had not yet been explored extensively: the neurological impact of Covid-19.
It was just a few months after the beginning of the pandemic, and Nikita had read an article about how Indian patients with coronavirus were experiencing neurological symptoms. After an extensive review of the research on Covid-19, Nikita made an astonishing discovery: that the virus was causing an increase in cases of encephalitis.
“People with Covid come in with migraines and headaches, and then when they get their brain scan, it turns out it was because the brain had swollen up,” she said.
Nikita’s paper on the neurological effects of Covid-19 is just one of dozens of research projects Pioneer scholars have conducted that have a real-world impact. Pioneer scholars have produced cutting-edge research that has offered new insights on a wide range of issues, from carbon capture technology to strategies that could reduce poverty in developing countries. This is no accident, as Pioneer intentionally selects scholars who demonstrate an ability to contribute meaningful solutions to global challenges across a wide range of academic fields.
Founder and Program Director Matthew Jaskol states,”The identification and empowerment of young people who have high potential and intention to contribute to solving global problems is embedded in the soul of our organization. In Pioneer Academic’s credo are the words: ‘We believe that students who will make meaningful positive impacts on our society throughout their lives need highly personalized yet guided educational experiences allowing them to explore, to question, to generate and to test their own ideas. Regardless of the fields to which a student applies, our admissions team considers, ‘How much does this student want to make a difference?’ Pioneer is a launchpad for global impact because we reach across geographies to pull together remarkable young people with similar interests and give them the opportunity to engage with each other in the pursuit of new knowledge.”
Pioneer alumni have definitely risen to the challenge, as evidenced by their research papers that propose creative solutions to a wide range of significant problems, using perspectives from many different academic fields. Here are three research projects Pioneer scholars conducted that offer promising applications to some of the most intractable problems the world faces.
Improving Carbon Capture
Johnelle (material science, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from New York City, started her research project with one goal in mind: to produce something that will improve our ability to curb climate change.
While countries are combatting climate change through direct air capture plants that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the technology is expensive and not completely efficient, Johnelle said.
“In order to really make a change in the atmosphere, a lot of plants will have to be built,” she said. “So I thought, how can I increase the efficiency of this one plant to actually reduce the presence of greenhouse gases?”
Johnelle discovered that adding carbon nanotubes to carbon capture plants, many of which use solar energy, would increase the efficiency of the technology because the nanotubes have photovoltaic properties, allowing them to absorb more energy.
“They can harness that energy for super long periods of time, and so when I saw that, I wanted to integrate this into the carbon capture plants, and by doing that I can actually research how that makes an impact on the environment,” she said.
Now a freshman at Columbia University, Johnelle said her paper showed that carbon nanotubes offered the most advantages in improving the efficiency of carbon capture technology. “Because it was the most plausible, I went with it and I developed it and I was able to have really solid data,” she said.
Using Microloans to Reduce Poverty
Jahin (political science, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from New York City, spent his childhood in Bangladesh until his family emigrated when he was in fourth grade. “I saw a lot of poverty in my life and I always thought about how can I make a difference,” he said.
Inspired by the use of microloans to help rural women start their own businesses in Bangladesh, Jahin decided to explore whether the financing tool was successful in Nigeria, a country that also has extreme poverty and a history with microfinance programs.
While collecting data for his project, Jahin contacted several nongovernmental organizations in Nigeria, and through them he was able to conduct a survey of nearly 40 women who had received microloans. Another key part of his project was learning about the theoretical basis of international economics that supports a range of anti-poverty programs.
Jahin said his exploration of the economic theories will help the award-winning nonprofit he created called Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh, which provides educational and development support to marginalized youth in his native country. He also hopes to draw on the research as he continues to work on poverty programs in the future.
“I want to gain theoretical knowledge because later on in my career I want to do research on poverty and having that kind of research experience early on would be helpful to me,” said Jahin, now a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Uncovering the Neurological Effects of Covid 19
While growing up in India, Nikita became interested in the study of neurodegenerative diseases when one of her relatives began suffering from hydrocephalus, the buildup of fluid within the brain which can cause a loss of both mobility and memory.
“It was kind of heartbreaking for me and my family so understanding the root causes of these neurodegenerative diseases is really important to me,” she said.
Starting at Pioneer just after the pandemic began, Nikita discovered she was fascinated by Covid-19 and wanted to learn more about the neurological effects of the disease. She began her research by looking up the sources for the newspaper article that described how Indian patients were experiencing neurological symptoms.
She then compared the effects of SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus) outbreak in 2003 to the impact of Covid-19. Her analysis projected that by the end of 2021, Covid-19 would cause between 20,000 to 30,000 cases of encephalitis.
“People gloss over the fact that Covid has a lot of different underlying issues,” she said. “It causes a lot of organ damage but we only think about the respiratory part of it.”
Nikita, now a freshman at Barnard College, hopes to continue studying neuroscience in college based on her work at Pioneer. “I’m very grateful I was able to do that before going to college,” she said. “I would never exchange this experience for the world.”