Suruchi Ramanujan is only 13. Still wearing braces.
Her laboratory work in pursuit of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease has earned her a regional finalist position in Google’s international science fair — and that’s just the latest of many youthful achievements.
So in various ways, she has been asked: How early did this educational wizardry begin?
The Overland Park teen doesn’t dismiss the question when she answers, shyly, that she’s always been good at math and science.
It’s nearly a literal answer.
Memories drift back into foggy toddler years that her dad, Sam Ramanujan, has to pick up for her.
“When she was 3, she was getting the logic together for multiplication,” said her father, a computer science professor at the University of Central Missouri.
He would ask her, “What’s three times four?” And she wouldn’t just say “12.” She showed it with her blocks and beads.
“She’d put things together and explain,” he said.
In the first grade, her parents entered her in the national Kumon Math Challenge and she came home from St. Louis with the $1,500 first prize for her grade.
The burden of high expectations probably began somewhere around then, a burden she seems to bear easily.
She was around 10 when she began imagining a life-changing scope for her work.
“I realized in the fifth grade I was doing well,” she said. “I wanted to play it into something that would make an impact.”
Medical science was calling her.
At Harmony Middle School in the Blue Valley School District, she began working on science projects that would take her to nearby Blue Valley Northwest High School to use their lab facilities.
She was familiar with the school, since she also went there to take high-school-level math courses.
This school year, she turned her focus to Alzheimer’s. She knew relatives who had suffered with it. She knew that America’s growing population of seniors meant many more families would be needing help.
“Maybe one day I can find the cure,” she said. “It would be important not only for them (those suffering with Alzheimer’s), but for the millions of caregivers. You help one and you also help two or three.”
Right now she’s focused on the latest research that has suggested that increasing the amount of oxygen going to the brain might delay the onset of the disease.
She bombarded the enzyme catalase with iron and copper ions under varying temperatures, looking for ways to optimize the enzyme’s ability to produce oxygen from hydrogen peroxide.
Suruchi started her work at the high school where she joined in with ninth-graders in Jeremy Mohn’s honors biology class.
“She really understands the scientific process,” Mohn said. “She was able to show her experiment’s relationship to other studies on how cells degenerate with Alzheimer’s disease. She focused in on a specific question that helps fill out how we can treat Alzheimer’s or try to prevent it.”
She put her project in with thousands of others from more than 100 countries in the second Google Science Fair and is a regional finalist in the 13-14 age group, one of 90 overall.
Of course, she’s just beginning. She scored a perfect 800 on the math section of the SAT college entrance exam through Duke University’s Talent Identification Program. It earned her a Beven Scholarship to attend a science camp at Duke this summer. There she hopes to gain more ideas to deepen her Alzheimer’s work.
Not too long from now, Suruchi sees herself working with genetics and stem cells at Kansas City’s premier medical research facility, the Stowers Institute.
“Someday I’m going to go to the institute and help society,” she said.
Meanwhile she’ll be back in Blue Valley — an exciting prospect to her teachers.
“She’ll be in my AP biology class,” Mohn said. “I’ll get to keep watching what she’s doing.”