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9-Year-Old LAUSD Student Becomes a Semifinalist for NASA's STEM Contest

A third grader from Hancock Park Elementary believes a nuclear energy technology can be used to send a rover to Venus to learn more about greenhouse gases.

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A third-grade student from the LA Unified School District has become one of the semi-finalists in a NASA STEM competition, the “Power to Explore Challenge.”

Nine-year-old Nikhil Gaddam from Hancock Park Elementary School is one of the youngest students to be considered for the nationwide contest. Another LAUSD student – along with a 10th grader from Rancho Palos Verdes and an 11th grade student from La Canada Flintridge – are also considered to be contenders for the prestigious competition.

When NASA asked students to envision a space mission, utilizing a nuclear energy technology called Radioisotope Power System, Nikhil came up with a hypothetical mission that could help us combat global warming.

“It was basically an atmospheric probe, and I’d send a rover to Venus,” the third grader explained. “The reason I was interested in Venus is that high level of carbon dioxide can tell us about global warmings.”

For some people, topics such as radioisotopes and carbon dioxide may make their eyes glazed over, but Nikhil said he just wanted to “fix” a problem for the contest.

Dr. Srinivas Gaddam, Nikhil’s father and a physician for Cedars Sinai, beamed with pride and joy when describing his son.

“He’s a smart kid. He absorbs a lot of science. This will allow him to take off -- so to speak – to go deeper into science given the encouragement he needs to move forward.”

While Nikhil soaks in details about space science, especially rover missions, through countless JPL’s videos and interactive programs, the young boy is not putting all his eggs in one basket when it comes to his future. He said he would consider three professions when he grows up: making capsules and rovers at JPL, being a pilot or playing professional baseball like his favorite player, Mookie Betts.

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