Eighteen-year-old wonder kid Ritankar Das is not only completing his studies at UC Berkeley with a double major in bioengineering and chemical biology and a minor in creative writing, he’s getting it right in just three years. He is the youngest university medallist in at least a century and also the first student from the college of chemistry in 58 years and the first ever from the department of bioengineering to earn the honour, along with a $2,500 scholarship. Ritankar is graduating with more than 200 credits and a GPA of 3.99, which includes eight A pluses.
“During a biology class I wondered how the energy crisis could be solved if humans could tap solar energy like plants.”
His affair with energy began in high school itself. “During a biology class,” he says, “I began wondering about how the current worldwide energy crisis could be effectively solved if humans were able to extract energy from the sun as efficiently as plants do. This curiosity led me to try to create a device, motivated by plant biology, which could harvest solar energy. After consulting several books, teachers at school and the internet, I began using a blender and other kitchen supplies to perform experiments that would lead to this device. My interest in this ‘quirky’ idea of artificial photosynthesis came about from an intellectual challenge of applying classroom knowledge to solve a real-world challenge.”
Currently, Ritankar is working on a book which tackles education reform and includes contributions from Nobel laureates, US cabinet secretaries and university presidents. He has also founded See Your Future, a student-run non-profit that presents scientific content to middle and high school students through in-class demonstrations, videos, interactive activities and games. The idea is to encourage disadvantaged students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. After graduation, Ritankar will head to Oxford for a master’s in biomedical engineering and then to MIT, for a PhD programme in chemistry.