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It’s 3:16 A.M.
My eyes are bloodshot from sleeplessness; I stumble into my room and crash my head against the soft, plush pillow laying on my bed. I pull the blanket over my head and close my eyes, trying desperately to get some sleep before the sun rises. In the fleeting moments before I pass into deep slumber, my mind is finally free to wander after an arduous day filled with school and work. My thoughts stream in a blurring sequence of images, each of which help me recall what I learned and experienced in the day. My mind races between the Lakers injury report I saw on ESPN at the breakfast table to the article I read on my iPhone about the future of nanotechnology between classes. My mind then flashes to the Socratic Seminar I presided over as President of my school debate team and then to new piece I learned from my Tabla guru. Combining that with the unfamiliar faces at school, the new Drake song on the radio, and the universal grumble about college application essays I hear in the hallways leads to an unimaginable volume of sensory input that the human brain has to process, sort, and hierarchize every single day. This self-improving organ, which enables us to make sense of this world and has allowed us to go the moon and back, is truly the most amazing aspect of the human experience. It is my fascination with the human brain that keeps me up at night. Although the human race has successfully mapped everything from the crystalline structure of a diamond to the arrangement of stars in our galaxy, we are still in the preliminary stages of understanding the developmental anatomy of the human brain. The next great frontier for human discovery is right within us; it is my mission to unlock the brain’s secret mechanisms, and discover the clues that will provide breakthroughs in implementing prosthetics, treating mental illness, and curing disease.
My thoughts flash to being in the emergency room and seeing my grandmother in the initial hours after suffering a catastrophic stroke. At that moment, my fascination of the brain was more of terror, and it was heartbreaking that she could not recognize the ones she spent a lifetime raising. In the hospital ward I had prayed for many things, but mostly that I could do something to help her. I was too late, but out of the grief of her death rose the inspiration to learn more about the organ that caused her demise.
As a contributor to KQED’s #DoNow program, I was able to write articles about the brain that science teachers in the Bay Area used in their curriculum. In the passionate debates our writing team had about the ethics of brain implants and the merits of psychosurgery, I came to realize the power of the brain’s perception: the profound emotions we experience are really nothing but electrical signals in the hippocampus.
My mind always returns to a place of unbounded optimism and fascination about the prospects of a future where we’ll be able to harness all the power that the brain has to offer. It amazes me that there are currently thousands solving humanity’s greatest challenges, and I can’t wait to join their ranks. On late nights when my mind is restless, this sense of assurance lulls me to sleep, and the promise of a new day always leaves me excited to wake up and chase my dreams.
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