Rudra Sekhri, a high school student from Australia, was recently awarded the Young Citizen of the Year Award for his many contributions to society. We had the opportunity to speak to him where we learnt his interest in climate change, astronomy, and more.
Rudra has played key roles in the environment and sustainability area, working with local governments to design innovative, tech-based solutions to key sustainability problems in the area, such as the Robot Walking School Bus, the Water Quality Monitoring System, Saving Wildlife from Road Accidents and much more.
“I was excited, surprised but most importantly, grateful. To become a nominee for the Young Citizen of the Year award, let alone the recipient for the award, someone from the community has to nominate you for the award. I felt extremely grateful for the people who believed that I deserved the award. I also felt that this award really shows that young people play a huge role in modern day society and that we need more young people to step up and take action on problems that affect them.” he expressed.
He is also the ambassador for the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition (abbreviated as the IAAC). IAAC is an annual, international competition around astronomy and astrophysics. Rudra participated in the competition this year and won a gold certificate alongside a national award for performing the best in Australia. As an ambassador at the IAAC, his role is to get as many people participating in the competition as possible.
“From my experience, I think the IAAC is a wonderful competition that allows you to test yourself against people from all across the world and more importantly, allows you to learn key skills in astronomy and astrophysics. Such skills include being able to analyse and understand research papers and being able to apply physics to determine why certain solutions are the way they are,” Rudra told CSP.
Over the past few years, he has been researching with astronomers from the Swinburne University of Technology on various research projects studying pulsars, neutron stars, Fast Radio Bursts and more. "I’ve been involved in several discoveries of new Fast Radio Bursts, strange phenomena is pulsars and a paper which I co-authored is about to be published into Oxford University’s top scientific journal," he said.
Rudra also hosts a podcast series on Astronomy and he calls it “Astropods”. His fascination for the universe started when he was in the fourth grade. Before then, he was primarily interested in general science and mathematics. “Astronomy just combined them so well and provided some meaning to the night sky above me that I just became fascinated by it,” he remarked.
Since then, he has been learning at his own pace, and began completing online university courses when he was in grade 5 and 6. Now, he gets the opportunity to work with astronomers on various research projects, studying fascinating phenomena such as Fast Radio Bursts, pulsars and gravitational waves.
“Personally, something which I’m super fascinated about in the universe is that all of it originally came from an infinitely small point and then expanded into the universe we know today. What also fascinates me are black holes, objects which are so weird that even our current laws of physics can’t fully explain their behaviour,” he said.
Rudra’s top two favourite astronomers are his generous mentors who have offered him the opportunity to research with them. They are Dr. Chris Flynn and Prof. Matthew Bailes, both from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology.
Besides them, his favourite astronomer would be Richard Feynmann, who would explain the physics of the universe with such elegance that anyone could understand what he was saying. Another is Roger Penrose, who used geometry and the properties of 3D objects to prove that all stars with a certain mass, no matter what their shape is, will always form black holes.
“A couple of Indian astronomers whom I have always looked up to are Subrahmanyam Chandrashekar and his brilliant work on how stars collapse to form black holes. Another person who I look up to isn’t an astronomer, but a mathematician. His name is Srinivasa Ramanujan. His work in abstract mathematics now applies in some way, shape or form, to the physics and mathematics of black holes and other complex bodies. They’re still being used even to this day,” Rudra expressed.
India is home to a great many astronomers such as Aryabhatta and Bhaskaracharya. Their studies are still available in the present day and coincide with many of today's discoveries. We asked Rudra on his thoughts on Indian astronomy.
“I haven’t delved into Indian astronomy as deeply as I want to, but what I can say based on what I’ve read so far, Indian astronomy has always been centuries ahead than Western, European thinking. It was the work on Aryabhatta and previous astronomers that was translated into Arabic and other European languages. In fact, the Rig Veda, one of the oldest known texts in the Indian subcontinent, contains astronomical records and other pieces of information alluding to the fact that the stars were used to record when certain events took place,” he explained.
As with mathematics, Vedic astronomy has had a profound impact on modern astronomy and that many of the brilliant things that used to be common knowledge in India have now disappeared and only a few experts know.
He added that Vedic astronomers believed that the stars light-years away were just like our Sun, which is true today. They believed that everything in our Solar System orbited the Sun, which we now call the heliocentric model of the Solar System. They also believed the Earth was round and even tried to estimate the size of the Earth long before the Ancient Greeks did. The Vedic astronomers even went as far as to calculate the average distance between the Earth and the Sun in relation to the size of the sun.
Apart from his interest in astronomy, Rudra has authored a book called ‘The Earth Needs You’. This book focuses on tips and tricks on how to get started in living a more sustainable life. Moreover, it highlights the sheer damage that mankind has done to this planet and how young people are taking the lead to prevent further damage.
“Initially, the idea struck me alongside one of my friends, and we wanted to share a student’s perspective on the whole issue of climate change. Moreover, I felt like people know that the problem exists, but they don’t know how they can contribute to the solution besides the major, yet ineffective method called protesting,” he explained.
The book aims to highlight how one can help stop climate change through simple measures such as setting up a vegetable patch and more. It also aims to show just how big the problem of climate change and global warming is by drawing attention to the individual problems such as electronic waste, electricity production, transportation emissions and more.
It is different from many other books on climate change as it tries to make the whole situation much more easier to understand. Moreover, the fact that this is a book written by a young person shows that young people are concerned about this issue but moreover, that students have a unique perspective to various geopolitical and scientific issues.
Over the course of his many stints, Rudra has received wonderful opportunities to meet people from across Australia who are passionate in climate activism. Currently, he is a part of a climate activism organisation called OzGreen. OzGreen aims to educate people, particularly students, about how they can solve ecological problems in their local communities. While they are based in Australia and run most of their programs in Australia, OzGreen has been running their ‘YOUth LEADing the World’ program in India as well, particularly in Varanasi and in remote villages.
Apart from that, he is part of many other organisations such as the Australia Youth for International Climate Engagement, which is an organisation dedicated to climate activism on the world stage.
Rudra also mentioned to us that there is another book on the way. “My first book focused on one of my many passions, which is climate change. The second book will focus on astronomy, but more importantly, it will focus on how humanity will expand outwards into space and other planets,” he said.
The book will be called ‘Hacking Enceladus’ and it is a novel about how humans will colonise the moons orbiting Saturn and further out in the Solar System. It highlights the many difficulties humanity will have when they first colonise the stars.
The book is partially inspired by ‘The Martian’, a science fiction novel written by Andy Weir. Rudra wants to try and make this book as accurate as possible, by researching every single thing that he will include in the novel online. He also wants to be able to educate people about astronomy in this book.
As mentioned before, Rudra has taken part in environmental and sustainability related projects; one of them being the water quality monitoring system. We asked him about the thought process behind this idea and its practical applications.
“The Water Quality Monitoring System aims to determine the water quality of a particular water system (such as a river) on a consistent and regular basis. More specifically, it measures the temperature, conductivity, pH and turbidity of the water. This water quality data is then published on the cloud so that anyone from the community can access the data for free and use it for their own purposes. An example would be local governments using this data to inform local council policies and decision-making. Moreover, it has been designed, built, and deployed in such a way that anyone, including students in schools, can learn how to reproduce the sensors and deploy more in the community,” he elucidated.
The idea came about through brainstorming with local government sustainability officers and university students, which Rudra was a part of. After securing some funding for the project from the local government, they decided to get the project up and running. A proof-of-concept was presented at the Young ICT Explorers Competition 2018, in which they won second in that category.
Currently, his team is in the development and deployment process of the project. They have already deployed one sensor in one of his state’s biggest rivers, the Plenty River and they plan to deploy at least 7 more by the end of January 2022.
“The applications for this project are huge. Not only can this be used in local government policy decisions and potentially even state-level policies. This can also be used by local citizen scientists and even local organisations to assess their impact on the local environment and to allow better sustainability management for these organisations.
The biggest advantage, however, comes from the fact that it was developed by students for the community. This means that anyone, including other young students, can develop and reproduce the sensors. It can be used as educational material for schools and the curriculum,” he expressed.
We asked him about his plans after high school and he told us that he would love to pursue research in astronomy, and learn more about the universe. “I would then like to share whatever I research not only through research papers, but through books, articles, videos and podcasts! My mission is to promote science and to share the things I love with the rest of the world. More than that, I want to show that nowadays, there is no age limit and that with time and dedication, anything is possible,” he expressed.