MILL CREEK — Sriharshita “Harshu” Musunuri, 15, has had a lifelong love of science and math, and was recently one of two students in the state to be invited to talk at the Washington STEM Summit at Microsoft’s headquarters. In 2015, the sophomore at Henry M. Jackson High School won one of the top awards in the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
Question: What was being one of two students in the state to speak at the STEM summit like?
Answer: It was pretty amazing. In the morning I was there at the VIP breakfast. I was mainly there just to ask a question after the University of Washington president (Ana Mari Cauce) and the Microsoft executive (Peggy Johnson) gave a speech.
I also talked with three other professionals and two other students; it was basically a panel. We were basically asking each other questions, there was a moderator, the CEO of the STEM organization running it. I was asking a question about how you go from developing an idea to actually getting a product out of it.
Q: What did you get out of the summit?
A: I got the most insight — one of the speakers was a researcher for Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (Elizabeth Vela Stephens), and she works in the research sector. I was able to connect more with her. She talked more on how researchers are more focused on developing an idea and getting a solution, but not worrying about getting a product out of it. Their goal is to get a viable idea to the industry people.
Q: How did your ISEF award come about?
A: I approached Mr. (Andrew) Sevald, one of the applied physics and economics teachers and the science research and engineering club advisor here. In ninth grade I was working on developing a device that generates electricity from industrial waste heat. I started researching, looking at papers. Basically my project, in a nutshell, was to develop novel materials that in combination that would do what thermoelectric devices do. It was on a small scale. Obviously, I had to ask for the materials, and that’s where Mr. Sevald came in. I had to contact researchers at universities in the field in order to obtain those materials and gain a deeper understanding of thermoelectrics.
Not a lot of people have heard of thermoelectricity. It seems like it’s a technology that should be everywhere. You’re getting electricity from iced tea. But it isn’t happening. I want to see if I can do something about that.
Q: What materials did you find out worked?
A: It was a combination tetrahedrite and magnesium silicide. It’s actually a solid state device, so it doesn’t move. Basically what’s happening is you’re heating one side and cooling another, and that creates a temperature differential that creates an electrostatic repulsive force… or you can say voltage, it’s easier. That voltage is then harnessed by connecting a load.
Q: How did you do in the fair?
A: At the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair, I placed second for the Grand Champion Award, and that got me a spot to go to the International Intel Science and Engineering Fair. I placed in the top 20, and also won the “best in category” for Physical Energy. That came with a cash prize, and I also won the United Technologies Corp. Special Award.
As part of the Innovation Exploration Award, that was when I got to visit NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech over the summer. We were basically touring their labs and talking with professors. It was an amazing experience, to be able to talk to the most revolutionary scientists. We talked to the scientist who developed the first geosynchronous satellite, so that was pretty cool.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: This year I’m working on more a of biotechnology focus. I’m looking into a simultaneous endotoxin detection and neutralization system. They’re actually found on the surface of gram-negative bacteria, and specifically they’re lipopolysaccharides. I’m still doing the research but I intend to present it in competition in March. The first one I’ll be participating in is Central Sound Regional Science &Engineering Fair at Bellevue College.
Q: Do you do anything for enjoyment outside of the sciences?
A: I am involved with, I guess for 8 years now, Bharatanatyam. It’s a form of Indian classical dance. I also teach some of the younger classes. It’s through an organization called the Nrityalaya School of Dance in Woodinville. My parents got me involved, I guess, to stay in touch with my Indian roots. I was born in India and moved here when I was a baby.
I also do a lot of volunteering with some organizations. There’s a nonprofit I’m part of called Girls Rock in Science and Math. It’s a program run by high school students for third-through fifth-grade girls. Every other week we basically go to Microsoft and teach them about interesting math and science topics they might want to pursue when they get older.
Q: It must keep you busy…
A: I guess a lot of my time is taken up by this, but when I do have time I go play tennis or hang out with friends. But that doesn’t happen too often.