Inventing the Future: Get to Know the OHS Explore-A-Vision Club


Storrie Kulynych-Irvin

An overview of GlioZap: A Nanoscale Approach to Identifying and Destroying Glioblastomas, created by an EAV Team of Badami, Joukovski, Ibrahim Rahman, and Daniel Kabanovsky. This project won an ExploraVision Honorable Mention as one of the top 10% of projects in 2018-2019.

According to its website, the Toshiba Explore-A-Vision Competition asks students “to create and explore a vision of future technology by developing new ways to apply current science.” Taking on such a project requires both extensive scientific knowledge and a passion for problem solving and innovation. Those qualities are a great description of senior Umar Ahmed Badami and sophomore Kate Joukovski, this year’s leaders of the OHS Explore-A-Vision Club. 

The task of getting from a viable, futuristic concept to a completed research paper and presentation is a time-consuming challenge, which is why EAV club members start the process early. “At the end of last school year we started brainstorming a lot,” Kate told me. “We had near-daily meetings over the summer to come up with these ideas.” 

Their goal is to use futuristic technology (anticipated to be available in the next ten to twenty years) to solve a global problem. “Even though they do need to be realistic and only need to happen twenty years in the future, our projects are pretty heavily grounded in current research efforts,” said Umar. “That is one of the reasons why Explore-A-Vision necessitates so much in-depth research into the nitty-gritty bits of scientific articles.” 

Groups of three to four students work on each individual project. “In around late October-mid November, we decide the projects that we actually heavily want to pursue,” Kate said. “And then depending on how many ideas we have and how many people, we delegate based on interest.” 

The club’s sponsor, Mr. Bruce Brege, has helped point students to research and faculty members to inform their projects. At the end of the paper-writing process, students will often send their papers to instructors for a second read. Yet both Umar and Kate note that most of the club’s work is student-driven. “A good 95% of the time, I can say, is literally just us reading articles, discussing them, and trying to figure stuff out,” Umar notes. The knowledge students gain through the research process “is one of the things that makes Explore-A-Vision so challenging but also a rewarding experience.” 

One of the many projects EAV has submitted to the competition in recent years is the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Nanomesh. Club members read about Harvard researchers’ work on miniaturized mesh technology that could be wired to a computer to relay brain signals and frequencies. The club members’ goal was to find a way to make the technology more painless by shrinking it further. Once the mesh was embedded in the brain, “it basically begins to pick up electrical signals from the surrounding neurons and it relays them to a little chip, which uses Bluetooth to relay something about those signals to a device outside the user’s head,” Umar explained. The mesh would pick up the signals with silicon field effect transistors (FETs), and transmit them along wires coated with biocompatible polymers to input-output pads, which would then use an antenna to reach the external device. The signals relayed would be “really customizable” in terms of the information they could provide – anything from updates on brain waves to warning signs of stroke. The entire system would be a nanosized circuit board powered by a nanoscale flexible battery.


The BCI NanoMesh was the OHS EAV Club’s inaugural project, designed by Badami, Selin Longmire, and Hannah Yoon in 2016-2017 (Storrie Kulynych-Irvin)



Umar also described the club’s supercell vaccine project, a particularly relevant area of research today due to the development of a coronavirus vaccine. The concept was a vending machine-like box that would prick someone’s finger to get a blood sample, scan for pathogens and to isolate any virulent or replicating viruses, and end up disrupting the viral material by turning it into a vaccine. Umar said that the main goal would be to make treatment more widely available by avoiding the necessity of a doctors’ appointment and ordering a vaccine, instead creating “personalized treatments for whatever antigens are in your body right now.” Such a project might call to mind the infamous failed Theranos model, which failed in part because its desktop computer-size blood testing technology was not actually able to conduct all of the tests the company claimed it could run. Umar says that the EAV vaccines team  looked at this example during their project development, and he believes that their idea is superior to it in a few key ways. The OHS students’ concept is robotic and automated, and also makes use of supercells, which lack the complex architecturing and organelles of normal cells, but do have receptors on their surface. 

“Regardless of what the antigen is, if it comes into contact with that supercell, the supercell can recognize what it is and then create a vaccine based off of that. So it’s really adaptable,” said Umar. 

During last school year, the Algavolt team made use of a biophotovoltaic  cell to create an innovative method of harnessing solar energy. Their concept involved a nutrient-rich layer of gel suspended in algae to create a living and self-repairing solar cell. When light hit algal cells in the system, they would begin to generate electrons and move through the gel to complete an electric circuit, and thus create power. Kate explained that there would need to be “several breakthroughs in materials engineering that will be able to make this a reality,” but expects that such “polymers with a synthesis of unique properties” should be on the market within the next ten to twenty years. If this project was made a reality, it could be a more efficient way to harness solar energy for use in power systems.

Kate mentioned some ideas in development from the summer brainstorming discussions, including utilizing osmotic pressure and a patch of electronic skin to harness plant energy, as well as looking at ways to combat respiratory diseases such as COVID-19. 

EAV’s goal to innovate on the frontiers of scientific research has drawn many OHSers to the club in the past five years, with membership growing from three initial participants to forty students in 2020-21. The club leaders welcome new ideas in brainstorming sessions: “there’s always room – and we highly encourage this – for new members to come into the club and bring their own ideas as well,” Umar said. Their efforts have resulted in several Honorable Mentions in the competition, as well as research internships and further collegiate study, and have also been featured in OHS’s prestigious De Novo journal. 

Since he founded the Explore-A-Vision Club in eighth grade, Umar has also started the Aerospace Club, Competitive Programming Circle, Pixel Chefs, and the Astronomy Research Club, and headed the Competitive Physics Club. I asked him what areas of science he wants to pursue in the future. He told me that might be astrophysics, but he’s also gotten to pursue biology and neuroscience in recent years: “with Explore-A-Vision and also with my other clubs, I always keep coming away with more areas of science that I’m interested in…either way, it should be a lot of fun.” 

Kate, who is also this year’s Sophomore Vice President, said that pursuing cutting-edge but also realistic and well-researched scientific ideas was part of what drew her to the club. While it might seem like a difficult balance to strike, this type of forward-thinking innovation actually lends itself to freedom in brainstorming new solutions. 

“You need to follow the laws of physics, because those aren’t going to change in twenty years, but you get to have really out-of-the-box ideas, which is something I love about Explore-A-Vision.”