Student, 19, is CEO of brain science firm

SINGAPORE - She has just graduated from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) but Tara Venkatesan is already a CEO of her own company, Cogsci Connects Inc.

The company is a student-led collaboration that raises awareness about the importance of cognitive science and its opportunities in Asia and around the world.

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary approach to studying the brain and its processes with other academic fields like psychology, anthropology, computer science and biology.

Now, there is more to reap from "all this BS (Brain Science)", said Tara. The company focuses on popular topics like social media, gaming and technology to illustrate how brain science has been applied to other fields. By sharing this knowledge, it aims to expand research about brain science, "one that is transforming virtually all fields in the 21st century", said Tara.

Like many others, great ideas start off with a eureka moment. For Tara, her fascination with this research topic began in 2010 in New Delhi, her hometown, where she was attending the American International School.

She was then listening to the US-based National Public Radio, when she heard Professor Oliver Sacks, a neuro scientist, sharing a story about a concert pianist. When she researched on the artiste, Tara found that "there was a whole field that studies the brain and music known as the cognitive science of music".

Understanding how the brain perceives music is of great interest to her as she has been learning how to sing Western classical music since she was eight. Both the sciences and arts were her passion while she was growing up.

Intrigued and excited to learn more, Tara went on to do an internship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011 and spent her time there in a cognitive science lab before joining ACSI. Tara saw the importance of cognitive science and its endless possibilities.

She wanted to engage more people and spread awareness about brain science literacy.

Last August, she set up Cogsci, with the support of her family, friends and professors who were willing to work with her on this project voluntarily. The company was her way of giving back to the community, she said, as she hopes to give the underprivileged an equal chance to compete in the 21st century.

What is her company about?

It is a communication platform that ignites the passion for learning about cognitive science. Students will be introduced to the field in a simplified manner. By making it simple and accessible, the aim is to motivate more to do research on it.

Who is it for?

For innovators, science whizzes, artistes, gamers, psychology majors and those who like to stretch the study of the brain beyond using the sciences. It is for people, above 13, who like to create by inter-phasing cognitive science with other fields of study and to bring it to the next level.

How does it work?

Through interactive learning. Tara said: "We want people to get inspired to create ideas, share them and get feedback on them."

This was the intention of the online portal www.cogsciconnects.com created by her and students from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Yale-NUS. It is supported by a technical advisory board made up of experts from Harvard, Duke, John Hopkins and Yale-NUS.

The online membership scheme on this portal allows people to explore blogs, mini-documentaries, seminars and discussion forums on various research related to brain science. And they can interact and share ideas with a network of students and professors.

Tara said: "It will be like cutting edge brain research brought directly to your computer and smartphone."

Why should people connect?

When a person is learning about cognitive science, he is essentially learning about himself. It gives him the ability to manipulate the way it works and improve on skills like memory power, attention and creativity.

There is also increasing focus on brain science research in the 21st century, making it a key to endless possibilities. "The company helps to build the brain science literacy required for tomorrow's careers, technologies and opportunities," Tara said.

Future of Cogsci?

Ever since its last student-led conference in January at the National University of Singapore, Cogsci has been invited to work with STEM Outreach programmes that increase awareness and foster interest in science, technology, engineering and maths-related fields and brain-related companies like Intel. Having attained a strong response locally, Tara is now aiming to take her company global.

It has already successfully connected with students from the US, Australia, Italy, Guatemala, China and Sweden who are interested in being a part of this project by sharing their resources and knowledge.

Cogsci is just one of Tara's successes. The granddaughter of former Indian president R. Venkataraman has sung in front of former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, Austrian president Heinz Fischer and the Dalai Lama. She also recorded the Hindi soundtrack for the movie Bolt for Walt Disney. Tara is also one of the 10 students in Asia selected to take part in the prestigious Young Artiste programme at Singapore's Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.

No surprises, but she is going to further her education in cognitive science at Yale University in August. She plans to continue selling her ideas, serving the community and promoting brain science research wherever she is.


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