It’s been immensely meaningful to know that the Thoreau Foundation is investing in my development as a future environmental leader. For me, it’s been about so much more than the financial support…it’s about being connected with like-minded peers, finding inspiration in their own interests and passions, and supporting each other as we try to have a positive impact.
High schoolFoxboro High School, 2013
Like so many Thoreau Scholars, Aheli Chattopadhyay’s fascination with science and love for the environment developed at an early age. Coming from a self-described “science-oriented family” (dad is an electrical engineer and Aheli’s sister is a molecular and cellular biologist), science was always a fixture in the household, even as Aheli’s family migrated from Iowa to Kansas City to Texas, eventually settling in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
At age twelve, Aheli read an eye-opening article in Time about the ability of aquifers to fix carbon dioxide, offering the potential to sequester carbon as a means to combat global warming. Aheli dove into the subject, eventually convincing the principal of her school, which didn’t have a science fair program at the time, to sponsor her entry into a regional science fair. Her passion for the topic led to an internship at the University of Bridgeport where, in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, she used carbon dioxide to grow algae, from which she extracted cellulose to power a battery. Her work was published in the Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.
Now studying at Stanford University, Aheli finds herself drawn to the intersection of human biology and ecology. “I’m interested in how humans have evolved to combat diseases, how the environment impacts human development, and vice versa. I’m really grateful to the Thoreau Foundation for supporting me in pursuing these interests.”
Aheli is no stranger to issues of human health and the environment. In 2010, her father, who comes from the village of Netaipur in India, was looking for a way to share some of his success in the United States with those in his village. “Netaipur is very poor,” describes Aheli. “My father has seven siblings and they have all struggled with the impacts of poverty. I heard these stories growing up, and when my dad decided to go back and help, I was inspired to join him.” Together, they gathered enough support to open a small health clinic in the village. “Prior to that, basic health services weren’t available. My father’s brother died of a snakebite because there was nowhere to receive treatment. Now, at least people can get vaccinated, get regular eye exams, and receive basic medical services.”
Aheli recognizes how this experience has impacted her academic and professional path. “It’s humbling to go back to those roots given where I am now, surrounded by so much wealth and privilege that we take for granted. It opened up my eyes to see this huge connection between human health and the environment.”
These kinds of insights are common among Thoreau Scholars, which has been helpful to Aheli as she charts a course through college and beyond. “It’s been immensely meaningful to know that the Thoreau Foundation is investing in my development as a future environmental leader. For me, it’s been about so much more than the financial support…it’s about being connected with like-minded peers. I’m lucky to have a fellow Thoreau Scholar in my class here at Stanford, Cordelia Sanborn-Marsh. When we get together I’m inspired by her own interests and passions, and we’re supporting each other as we try to have a positive impact.”
Aheli studies a solar panel as the sole U.S. representative at the Sustainable Energy Conference and Competition in Eilat, Israel.