At 18, Muhammad Suhail CS is already a researcher, entrepreneur, and a recipient of the prestigious Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya of Bal Puraskar (National Child Awards For Exceptional Achievement).
He won the award for developing a non-invasive and predictive method of diagnosing pre-symptomatic PEM with just paper strips which only costs Rs 2!
PEM, or Protein-Energy Malnutrition, is a form of malnutrition that arises from a lack of dietary protein.
To understand how this started, let’s take a quick look at his childhood.
Suhail grew up in the Mandya district of Srirangapatna. Proficient at yoga, karate, singing, writing, and even chess, this all-rounder’s interest in science began when he started attending exhibitions in Srirangapatna and later Mangaluru.
He analysed the prototypes on display and asked question after question until his curiosity was satiated. When his parents got him a laptop and internet connection, the whole world of science was at his fingertips, and his fascination with the subject grew.
When he was just 14, he developed “Let’s Walk To Electricity,” a working model of a piezo-electric 40*40 cm tile that generated electricity when people stepped on it.
It was installed at Gumbaz (the historical resting place of Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatna), which attracts hundreds of visitors every day.
Parts of the memorial were lit up by the electricity generated through Suhail’s project, showing that public places like malls and railway station could use these panels to generate electricity. It went on to win over 50 awards.
In 2017, on a dull Friday evening, Suhail was watching cat videos on YouTube. His project partner Swastik told him about Dr Manu Prakash, the opening speaker at ISEF (International; Science and Engineering Fair). After a quick google search, Suhail saw his TED Talk.
“His inventions and discoveries like turning a low-cost material like paper to something much more beyond than a canvas splattered with ink blew me away,” he says.
Dr Prakash, a reputed biologist and assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, is the pioneer of frugal science where he invents high tech tools using inexpensive materials.
Suhail conducted a Google search on the Top 10 Killer Death Diseases in India’ and when he clicked on the World Health Organisation page, the numbers shocked him. One in five children in the world were malnourished. Although the WHO plans to eradicate it by 2025, and an estimated $3 billion is spent on measures to fight it, there still were no non-invasive low-cost tools to diagnose it.
The protein test required to diagnose it was not affordable for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and it was children from these families that suffered from the disease. Suhail and Swasthik spent five hours trying to come up with a device that would eliminate the use of syringes and the many other complicated steps.
Drawing inspiration from Dr Prakash’s research, Suhail experimented with paper.
He inferred from research that every child does not have the same kind of nutrition and therefore needs a different diet. But the Central Government of India recommended the same diet for all malnourished children.
“For the longest time, a blood test has been the only way to identify malnutrition. The test was not only expensive for families below the poverty line but also added to the environmental burden, as the medical waste is not disposed of properly. So I decided to use a paper to conduct these tests.” He told us.
The paper works much like pH or litmus; if the colour changes, it is an indication that the child lacks protein and nutrients. He even came up with an app that can scan the paper to show the percentage of protein or level of malnourishment.
He adds, “The method costs Rs 2 and takes merely two minutes. It is a breakthrough in terms of cost and results in zero biomedical waste.”
When asked if he wants the innovation to be commercialised, he asserts that he wants it to be freely available in society as it is his way of giving back to the country.
Suhail is one of many young creators, innovators, musicians, and artists, who are changing the world with their ideas and working hard towards creating an impact.
While some of them have found simple solutions to problems that have perplexed adults, others have triggered a dialogue on important social and environmental issues.
It is time that we stop viewing them and fickle, reckless, and irresponsible, and treat them as people with their own opinions, ideas, and intentions.
This story is part of The Stereotypeface Project, an initiative by The Better India that challenges 26 stereotypes, which continue to exist even today. We are showcasing these stereotypes through all the letters of the English language alphabet.
Stereotypes exist everywhere — they are passed down over generations. Instead of embracing and celebrating what makes us unique, we stand divided because of them!
We’ve unconsciously learned to stereotype, now let’s consciously #EndTheStereotype.
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)