“It was totally unexpected. When they announced the name of the third prize winner, my name was not called. Then, they called out the winner of the second place and again it was not me. I thought that was it. And then, to my utter shock, they announced the first prize and the name called out was mine! I did not know which way to look!” - this is 11-year-old Navaneetha Rajeev’s response when asked about bagging top honours at the BrainCafé Budding Scientist Contest in Mumbai recently. A Class VI student of Global Public School, Thiruvaniyoor, Navaneetha is all excited about this unexpected victory which fetched her a cash award of `5 lakh.
The young gun’s project ‘Aquaponics’ cleared the south zone level competitions which were held in Bangalore and qualified for the nationals.
Budding Scientist is an all India science competition that “provides students with a unique platform to showcase their abilities by applying scientific principles through creation of innovative science models.” The contest invites thousands of young minds from schools across the country to translate concepts from physics, chemistry and biology and formulate exciting practical applications. At the end of the event, a total of 15 winners are chosen in five categories. Navaneetha bagged the top spot in category C which included eight other competitors from classes V and VI.
Explaining the nuances of the project, the young scientist says: “Aquaponics is a symbiotic system which combines aquaculture and hydroponics.” Aquaculture refers to the farming of aquatic animals such as fish while hydroponics is the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water (without the use of soil). Hence, aquaponics is the method of cultivating crops and fish together in a re-circulating system.
“Water from the fish tank is pumped to the grow bed and from there it flows again to the fish tank. The task at the competition was to set up a cost-effective system which will be useful to the entire community,” she adds.
Usually, the water from the fish tank is sprayed over the grow bed with a pump. The main disadvantage in this is that it doesn’t reach all the plant root systems evenly. What is ideal is to set up a system which can ‘flood and drain’ the grow bed intermittently. This can be achieved with the use of either a pump with a timer and a controllable drain valve or a simple bell siphon. “After I qualified for the nationals, I modified the project to add a bell siphon,” adds Navaneetha. In her project, the bell siphon was made with an empty plastic bottle and PVC pipe. The cost and complexity of building such a system is minimal.
Navaneetha thanks her parents Dr Asha and Dr Rajeev and her twin sister Niveditha for all the support. She looks up to her father who’s a science enthusiast. “My father loves science. I know most of my science from him. He helped me a lot with the project and travelled with me to all the competitions,” she adds.
Science and projects aside, Navaneetha’s favourite subject is English. An avid fiction reader, her favourites are classics by Charles Dickens, besides Tintin and Asterix and Obelix comics. She is also a keen blogger. Her poems and writings on her blogs ‘Navaneetha’s Garden’ and ‘Navaneetha’s Favourites’ are a reflection of her interests in English literature. She is also into theater at school and loves acting. She is also training in western vocal music and plays the guitar and keyboard.
Ask her what she aspires to become in the future, pat comes the reply: “BBC reporter.” After a thought she adds, “A BBC science reporter, maybe,” she brims with excitement. “If I become a reporter, I can learn new things and pass it on to others. Isn’t it wonderful?” the bright-eyed lass asks.