High school senior shares award-winning research during TEDx talk

A Macon student shared his scientific discovery with the world Friday.

Stratford Academy senior Tejas Athniwas one of 17 speakers chosen for the TEDxPeachtree conference in Atlanta.

Nonprofit TED is known for its TED Talks with experts speakers, and TEDx events are independently organized at the local level. TEDxPeachtree was filmed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Rialto Center for the Arts and livestreamed online. Footage of the full event will be posted on the TEDx YouTube channel in the coming weeks.

“I’m really humbled that I had this opportunity,” Athni said. “It was really scary having the spotlight directly shine on you and looking out into an audience of (almost 1,000) people. Today, the first two or three sentences were super scary, but then after that I kind of eased into my talk.”

Athni, the youngest speaker, gave the first TEDx talk on “Fighting brain cancer: Nature could hold the key” shortly after 10 a.m. Friday.

He conducted research on a plant with anti-cancer properties called Bacopa monnieri. His findings showed that an extract from the plant inhibits the growth of glioblastoma multiforme tumor cells, which are normally highly malignant.

He told the audience he’s optimistic that, with further research and testing, Bacopa monnieri will one day be used to treat this type of cancer.

Athni was among four high school students to win the 2017 American Academy of Neurology’s Neuroscience Research Competition in February for his research. He was attending the International BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego in June as one of 15 finalists when he learned he’d been chosen as a TEDxPeachtree speaker. He was selected after a nomination and application process.

“A simple curiosity can lead to much better things. When I first started my research, I was just learning the basics of plant biology, but I would have never imagined that now in 2017 I would be giving a TEDx talk,” Athni said. “The simple things in life that are derived from nature, we shouldn’t overlook those. Sometimes the most basic of things might hold the most complex of answers.”

Athni said he practiced for nearly four months and worked with a TEDx speaker coach. He put together PowerPoint slides to accompany his presentation and inserted personal anecdotes and humor into his talk. He and the other speakers rehearsed at the Rialto Center on Thursday.

During his presentation, Athni paid tribute to the people who spurred his research interests: Susan Hanberry Martin, who is his favorite teacher and introduced him to plant biology in the seventh grade, and his cousin, who has been cancer-free for four years.

“It’s been a true source of inspiration to develop something that hopefully could be able to save lives,” Athni said.

Mike McCue, who teaches Athni in AP computer science, has been a fan of TED Talks for years and attended TEDxPeachtree so he could support Athni and see what a local TEDx event was like.

“Tejas was absolutely wonderful,” McCue said. “His speech was memorized, but it was delivered naturally and with emotion. We were allowed to join him on his journey, and we stayed with him to the end. His standing ovation at the end was richly deserved.”

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea