|5 Apr 2023|
From New Delhi to the US and Back Again: Curiosity Always Leads the Way—Prasanna Chandrasekhar
By Clare Perry (AES Content Writer and Alumni Link)
ALUMNI: Prasanna Chandrasekhar, AIS/AES, Grades 9–12, 1969–1973; Sugandha (Chandrasekhar) Lowhim, AIS/AES, Grades 11–12, 1969–1971 ; Venkat Chandrasekhar, AIS/AES, Grades 3–6, 1969–1973
These three siblings made a rare visit to India together in February 2023. Prasanna and Venkat also visited the AIS/AES campus, Prasanna after 30 years, and Venkat after half a century. AES Communications staff had the chance to catch up with them on a long campus tour.
Having only just turned nine, Prasanna with his older sister Sugandha, younger brother Venkat, and scientist mother and father, started a global adventure that would eventually lead him back to India and to our wonderful AIS/AES community. The family moved from Delhi to Baltimore, Maryland when their mother, who was a Professor of Microbiology, spent time as a visiting faculty member at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (now Bloomberg School of Public Health). When asked about the move, Prasanna describes it like any ol’ day in the life of his very science-oriented family. And indeed, Prasanna seems to wear this matter-of-fact humility about him even today as he describes his accomplishments—work and even hobbies which by any regular standard would appear not as small interests but outgrowths of lifelong passions and hours upon hours of inquiry and work.
Precocious even in the early days, Prasanna managed to skip three grades in elementary and middle schools and, upon moving back to India after three years in Baltimore, started AIS/AES high school at age 11. While admittedly not in the best social situation—known as the “little guy”- Prasanna managed to thrive academically and graduate from high school at the age of 15. It’s not surprising that he didn’t explain to his HS peers that his size was simply the product of his age as he seems to be the kind of guy who had much bigger things to be thinking about.
As a classic middle child, Prasanna is keeping his siblings and others in his extended family connected. His connection to AES was recently fortified when he and his brother visited campus; while nearly unrecognizable to him compared to his school days in the late 1960’s, it still holds the keys to some of Prasanna’s continued interests.
While at AIS/AES, Prasanna was able to take rigorous classes in an atmosphere of inquiry and collaboration. He marvels that he was even able to audit classes beyond his required coursework. While his calmness and humility might signal that he is cruising along, Prasanna is absolutely never just along for the ride. He seems driven by deep curiosity, especially about how to solve problems. In huge contrast to his life as a student at AES, his post-high school life at an Indian university felt bland and perfunctory. He felt unmotivated by an academic life that revolved around cramming for final exams. Where was the engaged inquiry, the hands-on learning that had motivated him in high school?
And so disheartened, rescuing his curious and active mind from any potential stagnation, Prasanna initially left university in 1974 and soon found himself consumed by playing with his father’s chemistry tools and supplies. In fact, he quickly got busy on his rooftop in Delhi, working out how to convert sunlight into hydrogen. He was fueled—pun intended—by the oil crisis of 1973 and determined that there must be alternative energy solutions. He then went back to university in 1975 in the field of chemistry, his newfound interest.
Ever since, and with multiple degrees (Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD from Canada and the US) in hand, Prasanna’s work has been about finding solutions to problems. He lives in Holmdel, New Jersey, and is currently the owner of two tech companies, one of which is in aerospace and defense, with clients including NASA, the Navy, the Army, and large private sector clients, and the other a consumer optics company. Prasanna also continues to dedicate a lot of time to pursuing a lifelong interest in linguistics. He has developed the world’s first truly phonemic alphabet, called NAVLIPI, that allows people to more easily communicate across cultures and regions. As an example, the people of India with 33 different languages and 17 different scripts could be more easily and fluidly connected. But the script can also connect Mandarin speakers with speakers of South African click languages. This script, even accessible via apps on mobile devices, also provides a tool for languages at risk of extinction to be recorded and preserved. There are several lucky PhD students working with Prasana on this endangered languages project in Australia, India and the UK.
Overall, Prasanna would credit AES and his incredible siblings, who also went to AIS/AES, for his success and inspiration. His sister Sugandha is a retired physician who dedicated her work and research to public health in Michigan, and his brother is a professor of physics at Northwestern University, who probes the properties of electrons at low temperatures. Connected to and beyond family, and aligned with AES values, Prasanna has always been creative about carving out a balanced life for himself. Whether enjoying hiking, travel, or reading up on world history—an interest born out of engaging with AIS/AES’s comprehensive history curriculum in the early 70’s (taking Eastern Civ in 9th grade, Western Civ in 10th grade, and American Civ in 11th grade), Prasanna has lots of hobbies.
All in all, Prasanna approaches life with a sense of passion and balance: through the ownership and management of two businesses, he both makes a living and structures the time and space for fun research and innovation. In balancing a sense of practicality, purpose, and creativity, Prasanna is wholeheartedly living a “joyful pursuit of excellence.”
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