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Ruchi Shah: An Innovative Scientist Combatting Disease

Ruchi Shah, a 21-year-old Long Island native and a passionate scientist, invented an all-natural and inexpensive mosquito repellant that is the first of its kind after learning about mosquito-transmitted diseases in India when she visited the country at age 15. She is now the CEO of her own social entrepreneurship company, Mosquitoes Be Gone Inc., and continues to do research around the topic to combat mosquito-transmitted diseases around the world.

Ruchi also recently received the American Association for Cancer Research’s Thomas J. Bardos Science Education Award. Just 10 college students across the country are selected for this award each year—the 10 best collegiate cancer researchers in the nation who show the most promise in the field, to be more specific.

She was also the youngest invited speaker at the inaugural Forbes Women’s Summit: Power Redefined in 2013, was named a Yahoo! Women Who Shine Entrepreneur category winner, and was named one of just 10 National AXA Achievers in the nation.

Her accolades are jaw-droppingly impressive, but the most impressive thing about Ruchi is her passion. She lights up when she discusses her research and is gifted at communicating her intelligence and love of science with confidence and precision. She’s an innovative scientist combatting disease and working to make the world a better place—and this certainly isn’t the last time you’ll read about her incredible accomplishments. 

Name: Ruchi Shah
Age: 21
College: Stony Brook University
Major: Biology with a minor in Journalism
Graduation Year: 2016
Hometown: Ronkonkoma, NY

Her Campus: Tell us more about your social entrepreneurship company, Mosquitoes Be Gone Inc.

Ruchi Shah: My journey began when I was 15 and on a trip to India with my family. After witnessing the devastating impact of mosquito-transmitted diseases, I was inspired to improve mosquito control. Working in my garage and a classroom, I independently invented an all-natural and inexpensive mosquito repellent that is the first to work by neutralizing attractive components in human perspiration. My repellent was recognized by the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Forbes, and the AXA Achievement Award.

In college, my research project transformed into my own company, focused on using profits to bring free mosquito repellents to developing countries. After winning start-up funding from the WolfieLaunch and Long Island Entrepreneurship competitions, I launched an interdisciplinary internship and worked with a group of women interns to start the patent process, product design and company development. The goal of my business is two-fold in helping to prevent the spread of mosquito transmitted diseases in developing countries and empowering women to pursue careers in the STEM and business fields, where women are historically underrepresented.

HC: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

RS: My journey as a whole, the people I’ve impacted, the lesson I’ve learned and the challenges I’ve overcome, is my biggest accomplishment. I also think that each new accomplishment builds on the last. While my recent awards, like being selected as one of ten top college cancer researchers in the country or being featured on Forbes are notable, the smaller accomplishments were important in serving as building blocks to reach new heights.  While it is rewarding to reach a milestone or win a prestigious award, it is the person I have become and the skills I have learned through the process of achieving a goal that I’m most grateful for.

HC: What are you working on right now?

RS: My current work focuses on my three main passions: social entrepreneurship, science communication, and cancer research. As the CEO of Mosquitoes Be Gone, I am currently working with a team of interns on the patent process, product design and company development, It has been rewarding and enriching to work with a team of college students towards the goal of bringing the repellent I invented to developing countries.

On the science communication front, I recently finished my internship as a science writer at the National Institutes of Health, where I worked to communicate research progress to the community and to develop outreach programs. I am also continuing to write a weekly science column, Under the Microscope, to educate the general public about research advances through engaging and understandable language. Through the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science’s Science Unplugged program, I travel to local high schools and libraries to educate teenagers about science careers through engaging and fun presentations. I am passionate about making scientific findings more understandable and exciting to the general public, in an effort to increase awareness that will garner support for science and encourage the next generation of scientists.

I am also continuing my research in the lab of Dr. Kenneth Shroyer at Stony Brook University to investigate biomarkers to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment. I was a part of the research team that discovered the role of a protein, Keratin 17, in predicting cancer patient survival better than the tools doctors currently have. I am now investigating the pathways and mechanism through which this protein impacts cancer cells and their survival, and our findings were recently published in Cancer Research.

My ultimate goal is to be a physician, medical correspondent, and social entrepreneur, bringing positive change and science to the local and global community.

HC: Based on your own efforts and experiences, how can businesses, educators, parents and fellow collegiettes work to inspire science-based interest in future generations of young women? Why is this so important?

RS: In order to inspire science-based interest in the next generation, it is important to start at a young age. I still remember doing simple experiments with my dad on the weekends—making invisible ink, doing a spoon diffraction experiment or designing boats that could float. While the science was basic, it was the idea that science is all around us that inspired my love for the field. Through our education system, it’s important to show young children that science is not just memorizing facts but that it is found in every aspect of our world. It’s also important to incorporate experimentation, which allows children to develop an appreciation for the process of science. Likewise, it is important for schools to continue funding science-based clubs and research, as they do with other activities. Science and engineering are often stereotyped as male-dominated fields, but providing female scientist role models can inspire young women and make these careers seem more attainable. Having more women in science benefits our society as a whole through greater workforce equality, enhanced teamwork, new perspectives, and increased research in areas or diseases that affect women.

HC: You’ve accomplished what many would deem impossible, and at an incredibly young age! How did you stay resilient in the wake of doubt?

RS: I think the most important thing is an unwavering belief in yourself and your ideas. There have been many people who have told me that my ideas were too ambitious, my goals too high, but I trusted in my passion and drew strength from my mentors. From my parents, research mentors and high school teachers to college professors, administrators and internship directors, I have been incredibly fortunate to have mentors that have supported me and motivated me. Their belief in me, my ideas and my abilities gave me the courage to take risks and reach for new heights. When faced with challenges, I am also driven by the idea that my work, whether it’s the mosquito repellent, cancer research, or science communication efforts, will positively impact the lives of others. 

HC: What advice do you have for other ambitious collegiettes with a goal/dream?

RS: Take risks and be open to new opportunities and interests. Things are bound to go wrong, but your perspective is what makes the difference. Don’t let your failures discourage you, but instead use them as motivators to push you farther.

While you’re working hard towards your goals, it is also important to take care of yourself in terms of eating well, sleeping and scheduling in relaxation time. I’ve learned that only when you feel well can you do good for others.

HC: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

RS: “Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you.” – Grace Coddington

Alicia serves as an Assistant Editor for Her Campus. She graduated from Penn State in 2015 with degrees in Journalism and Spanish and a minor in International Studies. Before she joined HC full-time, Alicia worked for the editorial team as an intern, editor of the Her Story section, editor of the Career section, standard content writer, viral content writer, and News Blogger. When she's not busy writing or editing, Alicia enjoys attempting to become a yogi, cooking, practicing her wine tasting skills, hanging out with her Friends (you know—Chandler, Monica, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe & Joey?) and city-hopping her way across the globe. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @aliciarthomas.