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Syracuse high schooler recognized by NASA for research at Syracuse University

Courtesy of Hari Nanthakumar

Hari Nanthakumar, a high school senior in Syracuse, worked with a Syracuse University chemical engineering professor.

“University researcher” might elicit images of professors in tweed coats and young postgraduates with multiple degrees.

But one researcher at Syracuse University, who was recently recognized for his work by NASA, is only a high schooler.

Hari Nanthakumar, a senior at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse — while still applying to colleges — is already working on a groundbreaking chemical engineering project at SU.

“He’s doing world-class research. That’s what I call it,” said Ian Hosein, a professor in SU’s chemical engineering department.

Hosein agreed to work with Nanthakumar after the high school student reached out to the SU College of Engineering and Computer Science, deciding he wanted to submit a project to the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Nanthakumar’s project focused on making a material that was ultralight yet ultrastrong — curing acrylics with an LED light to create a material that Hosein calls an ultra-porous microstructure.

“What Harry did is what we call a micro-truss structure. It’s essentially a bridge … it has the struts that are made with certain shapes in geometry that give it strength,” Hosein said.

Nanthakumar kept moving forward, even after he completed creating the material. He took his work to the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, an event where the nation’s top high schoolers present innovative exhibitions to major players in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, such as NASA.

“It was an honor,” Nanthakumar said, who received an honorable mention from NASA at the science fair. He was only one out of 20 students in the nation whose work was recognized by NASA.

After the Intel ISEF, Nanthakumar traveled back to Syracuse and took his project a step further — publishing his work in the Results in Physics Journal.

“He’s essentially doing a Ph.D. project,” said Hosein, who added that he was most impressed by Nanthakumar’s ability to work independently.

While Nanthakumar’s achievements may seem out of the realm of possibility for many high schoolers, Hosein said he disagrees with that assessment.

“There are so many projects here at the university which are safe, cutting edge and can really help students gain experience in engineering, experience in science, experience working in a lab … it’s a really great way to launch a STEM career,” Hosein said.

Nanthakumar can still be found each Monday in Link Hall, working on his microstructure. Both he and Hosein said they believe the material could break the world record for strength in relation to density, with some additional work.

The Christian Brothers Academy student is also beginning his college search. He said so far he likes Cornell University and Brown University, but possibly SU, as well.

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