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Bright spark breaks barrier Talent over test marks

- New Zealand institute selects arts student for science course

A 20-year-old Calcutta boy with Asperger’s syndrome and no formal schooling in science beyond Class VIII has been selected to pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental management at one of New Zealand’s reputable institutes.

Southern Institute of Technology, Invercargill, was so impressed with Shashank Agarwal’s energy-efficient inventions and experiments with electronic circuits that it offered him a seat simply on the basis of his aptitude for science, ignoring his arts background or exam aggregate.

“I wanted to pursue electronics and (environmental) science and was delighted to know that Southern Institute of Technology would give me a chance despite my arts background. I met a representative of the institute, who went through my research and interviewed me for two hours. I was selected without having to write the IELTS (International English Language Testing System),” recounts Shashank, who will be travelling to New Zealand in July.

Shashank, who studied at Akshar till Class X and completed his ISC in arts from The Heritage School in 2011, hopes to become a celebrated inventor. He already has an impressive body of work for his age, including a robotic arm, solar-powered lights meant for use during forest treks, wind turbines, lights that switch on and off with a clap or the snap of your fingers and light-sensitive alarms to monitor tigers straying into human habitation in the Sunderbans.

“The solar-powered lights can be tied around your hand and it will show the power consumed. They are a replacement for normal torches that run on batteries,” explains Shashank.

So how did a boy who didn’t study math and physics after Class VIII develop such passion for science? “His alma mater, The Heritage School, groomed and helped him pursue his passion. He has represented his school in science fairs and won prizes. The Internet has also been his teacher,” says mother Shobha, a wedding designer.

Shobha has encouraged her son in his endeavour by becoming his first customer. “My mother is into flower décor and she has placed orders for LED-lit flowers that operate on rechargeable batteries. I am presently working on a project to recharge these batteries in a more energy-efficient manner,” he says.

Seema Sapru, principal of The Heritage School, said Shashank’s precocious talent was evident right from the day he joined the institution. “The best part of his experiments with science is that he uses simple things, most of them recyclable, in his creations. A robotic arm is made from cardboard, the refill of a pen and elastic bands. Now, that’s ingenuity,” she says.

Shashank is currently working on a “camera trap” meant to capture photographs of tigers in the Sunderbans. Another area of interest is the salinity of water and submerging of islands in the Sunderbans.

Although Shashank did his ISC with geography, home science, physical education, environmental science and English, he has been studying math and physics privately. “I have taken tuitions in math and physics to make up for what I didn’t study till Class X. Right now, I am studying math and physics for classes XI and XII,” smiles Shashank.

The three-year course at Invercargill covers data management and introductory biometrics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics and microbiology, and renewable energy in the context of energy production and utilisation.

“He had applied for admission to several institutes across India, but nobody would take him because he did not have the required subjects. But his projects and experiments won him a seat in one of New Zealand’s reputable institutes. I am so happy for him,” says mother Shobha.

Shashank’s medical condition is a mild form of autism.