Is Deepika Kurup the most talented sophomore at Harvard?

She’s only 17 and is in Forbes’ 30 under 30

Deepika Kurup is just a sophomore at Harvard but that hasn’t stopped her pioneering a new kind of water purification system, meeting Obama, and being named in Forbes’ 30 under 30.

The 18-year-old has a great sense of humor and makes fabulous Snapchat stories – and when she was just 14, she won a $25,000 prize for inventing a way to disinfect contaminated water.

The inspiring first year, from Nashua, New Hampshire, plans on concentrating in Neurobiology (but isn’t entirely sure).

We spoke to Deepika about her incredible achievements.

Deepika Kurup, class of 2020

Deepika Kurup, class of 2019

How did you go into research?

I began research when I was in the eighth grade. My family and I travel to India every summer, there I witnessed people who didn’t have access to clean drinking water and this sparked within me the need to help. At the time I was really passionate about science, so I decide I wanted to try “new science” in order to solve this challenge I was seeing in the world.

Why did you choose water purification? Is it a topic close to your heart?

The global water crisis is something that’s definitely close to my heart as I was affected by it personally when I was seeing these people who don’t have access to clean water, something we all need to survive. There, I saw kids being forced to drink water that is too dirty. So dirty, that I wouldn’t even touch it. Watching these kids being forced to drink this water really compelled me to try and address the water crisis.

At the White House Science Fair with her project

At the White House Science Fair with her project

What emotional implications do you think all you achievements have had on your life and as you as a person?

I think that as far as awards go, [they] mainly give you a better platform to share those ideas. I feel like this is the main thing I gained from that. It’s being honored to be named on these lists and winning these awards, just gives me a better platform to share my ideas. It’s very humbling.

When did you find out about Forbes? Tell us about that important moment.

I was contacted a few months before I learnt I was on the list and they said “Hey, you are nominated for this Forbes 30 under 30 thing. Can you answer some questions for us?” and the questions were things like, “What grade are you in? What are two things you couldn’t live without? How many hours do you sleep at night?” And they were very easy one-word questions, so after answering them, I didn’t give it much thought because, you know, it’s Forbes, and I never thought I would get mentioned on the list.

Then one day, I was in class not paying attention and scrolling through Facebook, and on Facebook I saw a link by Forbes, saying that the 30 under 30 had been announced. So I clicked it, to find out who was 30 under 30 and I was shocked to see I was actually on the list. They never actually contacted me saying I was going to be on the list, I just found out while I was on Facebook.

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With bff Obama

How did you meet Obama?

In 2012 I entered a competition called Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, and I was a top 10 finalist of the competition over that summer. At the time President Obama was campaigning and so he was visiting New Hampshire when this happened. Next thing I know, the Obama administration campaign called me and asked me if I want to meet the president. And of course I couldn’t deny that opportunity.

So during the summer of 2012, I was able to have a conversation with President Obama about my research. I was just entering high school at the time and we also talked about how high school transition, and how the project is going and how we can also get other kids involved in science and research.

And New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan

And New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan

What do you plan to do when you graduate Harvard?

That’s a pretty loaded question! I’m not entirely sure right now but the idea of medical school has crossed my mind. There are limited amounts of possibilities.

You’re so young! How did seeing an issue and imagining a solution go from concretely tackling and researching the issue to the point you have?

One of the things I started doing right after I saw this problem was investigating with Google searches how people were improving this problem now, and doing this is what got me into starting my own project.

TEDx

Giving a TEDx talk

What role did your parents play though all of this?

They have certainly been a huge support through the entire process and also my little sister, who’s 14 right now, has always been my biggest support. She’s always my first supporter when I accomplish something.

What is your motivation? Do you plan to continue this line of research?

My motivation is knowing that the world we live in continues having all these grand challenges and I guess my motivation is to solve these challenges and to help people.

You were recently at the Google Science Fair. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I was recently named one of the top 20 finalists on the international Google Science Fair. Which is basically one of the biggest science fairs and it’s sponsored by Google. And what happened is that all 20 finalists were invited to Google HQ in California and we competed against each other and participated in fun activities and we were able to meet Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google. It was a great experience.

At the Google Science Fair

As a finalist at the Google Science Fair

Any advice for budding researchers?

I think research can be intimidating, especially for those who haven’t done it in high school, but the first step is to find something you’re interested in and you can contact anyone who is also working on the same project and they are most likely not going to just flat on reject you, they go talk to you with they’re ideas and if they don’t think you’re a correct fit for their lab, if you contact a lost of different PI then you’ll definitely find yourself.

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