Innovations of an ignited mind: Meet Vinisha Umashankar who won International Young Eco-Hero Award from San Francisco for eco-conscious youth

After winning a prestigious award, Tiruvannamalai’s eco warrior Vinisha Umashankar talks about working to save the environment

Published: 01st November 2022 02:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st November 2022 02:22 AM   |  A+A-

Vinisha Umashankar

Vinisha Umashankar

Express News Service

CHENNAI: With the prize money, I’ll be planting fruit tree saplings such as Star Gooseberry, Indian Fig, Kala Jamun, Jungli Jalebi, and Indian Jujube in the forests near Tiruvannamalai. It will be executed with the support of the local forest department,” says an excited Vinisha Umashankar. This class 11 student from Tiruvannamalai recently won The International Young Eco-Hero Award from San Francisco for eco-conscious youth which involved a cash prize of USD 500.

The Award is given by Action For Nature, an international non-profit organisation based in San Francisco, California. Every year since 2003, Action For Nature has sought to recognise and reward young people around the world who are taking action to solve the world’s tough environmental problems. Youth from countries around the globe send in their stories and explain their work.

Then a panel of judges including experts in environmental science, biology, and education determines the winners. Winners are divided into two groups, ages 8-12 and ages 13-16. Apart from the cash award, the winner receives a certificate of achievement, media coverage, and exclusive access to the Eco-Hero Alumni Facebook Group.

What defines this 16-year-old is her eye for innovation, the urge to contribute to the environment, and the grit to do it all. Vinisha started her journey as an innovator and environmentalist at the age of 12 by inventing the solar ironing cart which uses solar panels to power a steam iron box and eliminates the use of coal.

From then on, she participated in several sciences and innovation competitions and bagged several awards a finalist for the Earth shot Prize 2021, recipient of the Earth Day Network “Rising Star” in 2021, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE Award in 2019, Children’s Climate Prize 2020, Global Child Prodigy 2022, and many more. 

Vinisha talks about her innovations, the awards that adorn the mantle at her home, and her aspirations. 

Excerpts follow

You have been bagging awards and international recognition every year. 

I am happy that environmental innovations such as the solar ironing cart get due recognition worldwide and can play a crucial role in reducing environmental damage and climate change. I hope my innovation motivates students to innovate products that could help to protect the environment and hand it over to future generations in good shape.

I am glad that the solar ironing cart is my contribution towards that objective. I don’t worry about winning awards. What matters is converting the responsibility into self-recognition with caution.

Tell us about creating the solar-powered ironing cart?

I knew that charcoal could be replaced with renewable energy to heat an iron box. However, there were some difficulties in giving shape to the idea of making a prototype. That’s when I came to know about the National Innovation Foundation and the Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam IGNITE Awards.

I thank the engineers of the National Innovation Foundation in Gujarat for developing my innovation idea, building the working prototype, and applying for a patent for the solar ironing cart. 

How do your parents, school, teachers, friends, and hometown impact your growth as an environmental innovator?

I live in a rural town surrounded by mountains and plains. The environment is much better than in urban cities. The level of pollution is low, and the air quality is good. In urban cities such as Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Kolkata, the air quality is generally poor and will get worse in the summer. I think the air quality is deteriorating in several cities worldwide.

After water, air pollution is the biggest threat to humans and animals like birds, insects, bees, and butterflies. My parents, school, teachers, and even my friends are quite supportive of my efforts and innovation projects.

How was the experience of being a jury member at the Children’s Climate Prize 2022?

It was an experience to remember. I hadn’t been a jury member before, so I had to quickly learn to assess and judge projects without any bias. I had to learn about each project, the nominee, and the environmental impact of the project.

Then, I prepared a short report on the project to present at the jury meeting. I learned quite a lot about how judging works at international-level competitions.

You have been an advocate for climate change. Why do most of the people around us not take climate change seriously? What can we do to change that?

Climate change is invisible and happens gradually. That’s why perhaps people don’t take it seriously. Climate change is real. Please don’t believe otherwise! You don’t have to believe anyone. Just ask people who are over 60 years old. They will tell you how the weather and climate were in their younger days.

It rained in the rainy season; summer was not scorching and winter was white. In many places around the world, it now rains heavily or there is a drought; summer is unbearably hot; winters are too mild or it snows heavily. There must be a reason for such environmental change. It is certainly climate change. 

What measures should be implemented in schools and in academics for students to be motivated to save their environment?

Environment, sustainable living, and climate change must be included in the social science subject from class 3. Every living thing on Earth relies on one another in the complex networks of ecosystems. These ecosystems improve soil, cleanse water, top-up oxygen, regulate climate, trigger rain, recycle nutrients and give us food. That’s why they are called the “natural capital”.

Our survival on Earth depends on protecting biodiversity. So, educating children at a young age is an urgent necessity for the sake of our planet.

What are your goals?

I would like to become a scientist and invent a vaccine that will help protect us against catching a cold. A cold is an illness caused by 250+ types of viruses, which makes it very difficult to invent a single cold vaccine. Getting a cold isn’t cheap! It costs the world economy USD 250 billion every year.

If I do invent a single cold vaccine, I may be awarded the Nobel Prize! Regardless of a medical or engineering career choice, I would like to become a scientist, invent products, support social development, and help protect the environment.

You have been working for the cause of the environment since 2016.

Today’s actions matter tomorrow. If we fail to understand the importance of trees, the environment, and the climate, our Earth will become uninhabitable one day. The essential aspects of living on Earth the land, water, and air could have been polluted beyond repair.

All of us should understand that environmental issues are real, can’t be fixed at a later date, and most importantly, they are not someone else’s problem. All of us should work together to understand the environmental problems and solve them before it is too late for us to take any action.


Crafting, stargazing, microscopy, and photography are my major hobbies. Yoga, gymnastics, cycling, swimming, and gardening are my regular activities. “I’ve won elocution, quiz, essay-writing, drawing, singing, and yoga competitions at the school, district, state, and national levels.

I can play the 61-key electronic keyboard and received the Grade 4 Electronic Keyboard Certification from Trinity College London. I know how to make pasta, fried rice, and pancakes!”

Role models

“Sir CV Raman has inspired me the most. He was the first Indian scientist to win the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930 for his discovery: The Raman Effect. In India, to mark the discovery of the Raman Effect, National Science Day is celebrated on February 28 every year. He was also very concerned about nature and the environment too.”

“My favourite female scientist is Marie Curie. She was a forerunner in researching radioactivity, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911. Most importantly, she became a scientist against all the odds, because back in her days, girls and women were not allowed to study and many couldn’t go to a college or university.”


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