For Srijay Chenna, science is more than what it seems. “It’s easy for the interesting bits of science to get washed away in the monotony of memorizing facts or performing calculations,” he says. “For me, I love how everything works in near-perfect coordination to form a bigger picture; the facts and calculations are only the basis to explain and understand the intricacies of the bigger picture, like veggies before dessert.”
A senior at The Charter School of Wilmington, Chenna has been mentored by supramolecular chemist Virgil Percec to learn more about mRNA delivery with his individual project, “The Simplified Process for Synthesis of mRNA Therapeutics.” Chenna won first place in chemistry at the New Castle County and Delaware Valley science fairs, among numerous other awards.
Also at Percec’s lab, Chenna designed and synthesized molecules for which he coauthored a paper titled “Screening Libraries to Discover Molecular Design Principles for the Targeted Delivery of mRNA with One-Component Ionizable Amphiphilic Janus Dendrimers Derived from Plant Phenolic Acids” in the peer-reviewed journal Pharmaceutics.
“I love how everything works in near-perfect coordination to form a bigger picture; the facts and calculations are only the basis to explain and understand the intricacies of the bigger picture, like veggies before dessert.”
He led the ImmuNextGen team in the New York Academy of Sciences, partnering with cold-storage company Gricd in an effort to create and propose improvements for cold-chain technologies that helped ease transportation of COVID-19 vaccines and make them more accessible.
Before the pandemic, Chenna participated in the Harvard Global Health and Leadership High School Student Conference at the Massachusetts university. After developing an interest in health care logistics—specifically, how the COVID-19 virus was shaping public health across the globe—Chenna took a class from Imperial College London that allowed him to form his own opinions on the inequitable impacts of the pandemic on different social classes.
He applied to be a part of the 2022 student speaker series for the virtual Global Health Leaders Conference at Johns Hopkins University, which allowed him to speak to more than 100 students from around the world.
As Chenna embarks on his last year of high school, he doesn’t have a dream college in mind—but he plans to study chemistry and pharmacology before pursuing both an M.D. and Ph.D. to advance to a career in medicine, biochemical pharmacology or both.
Chenna has already decided to dedicate his life to scientific discovery, something he thinks is important. “In my mind, if you question and clarify the way we understand fundamental science—even without rewards and recognition—your work is immortalized in a new perception of the world forever, and I think that is a life’s work worth doing,” he says.