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A Rising Scientist’s Quest for Knowledge and Impact

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
Maya Krishnan’s inspiring journey from STEM to innovation, bridging science and art with curiosity and creativity.
Growing up in a STEM-oriented family, it’s no surprise that Maya Krishnan ’24 devoured science articles in Lower School. When unsure what a word meant, she would write it in her notebook and add the definition. Her thirst for knowledge never wavered in Middle and Upper School as she was drawn to the balance between intellectual exploration and human interaction offered by science.

“My dad’s an engineer, and my mom’s a physician,” explains Maya. “We would have STEM-related discussions a lot at home. They let me nurture my interests to see where they’ll lead me. At LJCDS, I have had this platform to express myself and the benefit of an interdisciplinary education that allowed me to sample different courses and experiences.”

One of those experiences was a unique Middle School elective called How to Make a Medicine. “When I got in that environment, I knew it was what I wanted to do. We learned about biomedical research, techniques and what actual scientists do. I think that early exposure and experience were super important for me. I just couldn’t get enough of that class. I took it three times—over the summer and in seventh and eighth grades.”

In the summer of 2021, Maya searched for an internship and was accepted into the Scintillon Institute high school summer research program. She spent over 250 hours in the Yung Lab, where her work helped deepen the understanding of using nanobodies to detect COVID-19 spike proteins for advanced COVID diagnostics. It earned her first place in the Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair 2022 (Senior Division, Biomedical Sciences & Bioengineering). 
 
But it was her independent extensive research investigating human dermal fibroblasts as a novel therapeutic agent for neuroinflammation, after the summer internship, that earned the National Rising Scientist Award from Child Mind Institute in New York for excellence in neuroscience, second place in the California Science & Engineering Fair 2023 (Senior Division, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology), and first award in Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair 2023 (Senior Division, Biomedical Sciences & Bioengineering). She spent over 1,200 hours in the Yung Lab planning and implementing this personal project.
 
“Maya’s focus was galvanized by her need to make a hands-on difference in the pandemic,” shares Assistant Professor at the Scintillon Institute Yun C. Yung, Ph.D. “Over the two and a half years I’ve known Maya, her creativity, high intelligence, zeal, persistence and organization became apparent as her outstanding core traits.”

Design and innovation classes were equally influential. Challenged with thinking of an innovation that would change something about the COVID-19 pandemic and make it safer for people, Maya’s interest was sparked. Driven to safeguard providers, Maya collaborated with Mr. Lenzen, the director of design and innovation, outside regular coursework. Her extensive research revealed the critical role of gloves in infection prevention.

She began designing a biosafety product to remove gloves without causing any contamination, then pitched the prototype to the Torrey Explorer’s Fund and received funding to secure the design with a provisional patent. In the summer of 2023, Maya pitched her product to the neighboring research organization La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI). Their biosafety officer offered feedback to improve safety. Read more about this collaboration in an article by LJI

Maya’s invention, “The Touchless Glove Remover: A Biosafety Necessity,” was named one of the silver winners of the TITAN Health Awards 2023 in the Future Innovation Design - Safety category. This international healthcare and advertising competition emphasizes creativity, impact and innovation. The applicants from over 30 countries are companies and advertising agencies, not typically high school students. 

In addition to flexing her creative muscle with innovation, Maya balances her scientific endeavors with artistic pursuits, playing classical piano, maintaining a holistic health blog and creating pencil sketches.  

“I’ve always been STEM-minded but never thought I would end up in this scientific discovery and innovation niche. I am immersed in cell therapy, neuroscience and translational research. And I’m so curious about people all the time. I think that’s why I love science and personal interaction. The fact that science studies the human being with emphasis on health really spoke to me. I found early on that that would be my inner calling for life.”

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