Arjun Modi of Ahwatukee

Arjun Modi of Ahwatukee is only 17 but he gets to participate in deep discussions about complex scientific topics with some of the world’s top brains.

Ahwatukee native Arjun Modi, 17, has been selected by the World Science Scholars, a two-year program of the World Science Festival that connects participants with world-renowned experts to explore the latest in interdisciplinary scientific areas.

Arjun, a senior at Basis Ahwatukee, is one of 12 U.S. students selected to join 15 other “exceptionally talented mathematical minds” culled from 14 countries including India, Nigeria, Qatar, Canada, China and the Republic of Korea.

The scholars meet online with noted scientists, including Nobel Prize and Breakthrough Prize winners and other leading experts in their fields such as pioneering biologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel and biochemist Mande Holford.

Together, they explore and grapple with groundbreaking discoveries through interactive courses, live sessions and collaborative projects.

Throughout the two years, the scholars explore diverse disciplines that cover subjects such as decoding the human genome, mapping the brain and searching for black holes.  

Arjun said he has already found challenge and inspiration in the courses and with scientists leading them. 

“The first course I took was called ‘Beyond the Cloud of Everyday Experience’, and it focused on the counterintuitive parts of reality that modern physics has uncovered, like how time slows down as you move faster or the mysteries of quantum physics,” he explained. 

“This course really opened my mind to the power of science to completely change how we view the world, to the point where we accept principles that go against our intuition,” he added.

Arjun said the second course, “A Beautiful Universe 2020,” dove into the complex math that surrounds them. 

“I got a chance to apply the math I’ve been learning at school, like differential equations and linear algebra, to real world problems in physics,” he said.

Arjun is the son of Manoj and Bharti Modi. His father founded Execula, a web development and digital marketing company, and his mother is an attorney who serves as the firm’s legal advisor. 

Arjun explained that another looked at how scientists are harnessing venom to develop life-saving medicine.

“This course was so far my favorite since I got exposed to the type of scientific research I hope to do in the future, using biochemistry to create new treatments,” he said. 

Most recently, he took a course called “Hacking Biology for Nanotechnology,” which he said “explores how scientists are building nanobots using biological molecules that can do anything from glowing in the dark to attacking cancer cells. 

“This is the most fun course, because I get to see the future of the fields I want to enter, biochemistry and medicine,” he explained. 

“Throughout all these courses, I get to see and learn about the latest advancements in every field of science, which has inspired me to join the scientific community in the future to help build upon these discoveries,” said Arjun.

Arjun is no stranger to challenging course work since he has taken numerous AP classes at BASIS Ahwatukee, which he has attended since middle school. 

“I’m involved in lots of AP classes at BASIS Ahwatukee. I’ve taken biology and chemistry focused classes, like AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Psychology and the post-AP class Organic Chemistry. I’ve also done a lot of math courses, like AP Calculus BC, and the post-AP classes Linear Algebra and Differential Equations,” he explained. 

While he is a fan of Arizona sports teams, video gaming and swimming, Arjun’s extracurricular activities also include working with Arizona State University researchers on various projects.

 He joined the ASU SCENE (Science and Engineering Experience) program that provides selected high school students opportunities to work on ASU projects alongside professors.

“My friend Srivatsan Swaminathan and I conducted chemistry research with our mentor, Dr. Todd Houghton, into magnesium-ion batteries, a new type of battery, and we eventually presented the findings at two virtual international conferences,” he said. 

“I’ve also gotten involved with designing biosensors with Dr. Houghton and Dr. Nathan Newman, one for epilepsy and one for multiple sclerosis, to help people with these diseases monitor and manage their conditions.”

Arjun is also active in academic competitions at BASIS Ahwatukee, including its Quiz Bowl and Science Bowl, and is a part of the school’s speech and debate and mock trial teams.

And last spring, he and BASIS Ahwatukee friends and classmates Srivatsan Swaminathan and Mantej Singh founded a nonprofit tutoring website, DeltaTutor.org, that offers free tutoring to K-12 students. 

They offer help in more than basic reading, writing and arithmetic in their Zoom-driven tutoring – such as AP biology, calculus and world history.

“We offer the tutoring free of charge, Arjun explained. “We feel there are lots of students who would like on-demand help with schoolwork so we wanted to eliminate payment as a barrier to access this kind of help. 

“Hopefully, as we expand, this free-of-charge tutoring can level the playing field between students from wealthy families who can afford high prices for such services and those students whose families can’t or won’t.”

Arjun is still considering his post-high school choices.

“I don’t think I want to single out one particular school right now in case the other ones look up my name and see the article. That would be awkward,” he laughed. 

“But I will say I’m really excited to pursue a program where I can apply biochemistry and molecular genetics to research into new medicine, such as gene therapy. Opportunities to get hands-on lab experience in this area would be awesome, and  good football and basketball teams to cheer for would be nice, too.”

For now, he is invigorated by the opportunities he’s given through World Science Scholars. 

“I think the opportunity to bounce ideas back-and-forth with these incredibly smart and accomplished scholars, and learn from experts at the cutting-edge of their fields is the most meaningful part of this experience,” said Modi. “I hope I can build connections and friendships that last far into the future.”

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