By Chris Bavender
Vaibhav Vavilala was first exposed to neuroscience during his sophomore year at Carmel High School when he won a regional Brain Bee that was hosted by IUPUI.
“Through this experience, I had the opportunity to survey many subsets of neuroscience, such as learning, language, sensation and perception. Of these, I found the phenomenon of human memory to be the most fascinating,” Vavilala said. “I found it incredible how names, faces and experiences are all stored in the very connections between neurons. My involvement with the competition inspired me to study this science further by conducting original research.”
That research led to the 18-year-old being named a 2013 Davidson Fellow by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development in Reno, Nev. He also was awarded a $10,000 scholarship which will help pay for tuition at Columbia University where he is a freshman studying computer science and music.
But there were challenges along the way for the teen.
“First off, I had to wrap my mind around graduate-level mathematics and physics. I really stretched myself over the summer and school year to learn the science behind neural networks, investing over 1000 hours to grasp my research domain,” he said. “Self-learning the programming necessary to perform the simulations was no easy task as well.”
Vavilala said he couldn’t have overcome the challenges and completed the project on his own.
“My deepest gratitude goes to Dr. Yogesh Joglekar (at IUPUI) for his support and mentorship throughout this work,” Vavilala said.
Vavilala said the fellowship has further energized him to pursue a deep, driving passion for science and research.
“It is highly encouraging to know that my work is being recognized and supported by an organization as prestigious and catalytic to talent development as the Davidson Institute,” he said.
While at CHS, Vavilala was named a National Merit Finalist, a National AP Scholar, an Intel STS Semifinalist, a Siemens Regional Finalist, an Intel ISEF Finalist, a three-time AIME qualifier, a Congressional Award Gold Medalist and a United Way Outstanding Service Award recipient.