Humans of Harker: Curiosity, creation and community

Rishab Parthasarathy searches for patterns in science and shares his knowledge with others


Sabrina Zhu

“You have to be able to take those [equations] and develop your own mindset and your own perspective, and be able to take those in ways that other people might not expect, because that’s what makes you unique. That’s what creativity is,” Rishab Parthasarathy (12) said.

Dozens of smooth, cream-colored tiles spill onto the bare floor, and a pair of young hands frantically reach out to grab them. E, N, T, A, Q, F. A 4-year-old Rishab Parthasarathy (12) flips over the shiny letters of Scrabble, as his mind works to create words out of the jostled alphabet. That same passion for linguistics that he had as a toddler remains with him to this day. Now, instead of searching for words in a friendly game of Scrabble, he looks at the variations in genetic information, investigating the patterns of major diseases.

In particular, Rishab enjoys seeking out the large variety of possibilities in our world’s languages, and this enthusiasm has helped him become involved in other areas of study.

“There’s so much potential in the permutations of words,” Rishab said. “That really drew me to science as well because when you go into science, you have these equations that you’re trying to play together.”

Rishab finds comfort and success in these equations, and he frequently participates in STEM olympiads and organizations, such as the American Math Contest (AMC) and the United States of America Computing Olympiad (USACO). Even as he explores science beyond linguistics, he always maintains the same problem-solving mindset.

“Science has a very deterministic way of thinking with equations,” Rishab said. “You have steps that you’re putting together, but the rest is out there. It’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle: you have these pieces, but you’re trying to figure out how to put them together in the best way possible. That’s really helped me develop this more interdisciplinary mindset, where [I view science] as these different parts.”

Rishab’s heavy involvement in linguistics, math, physics, computer science and more may seem impossible to some, but he sees all these various subjects as connected. He believes there is great value in combining different fields, something that will help progress our world’s technology.

“I think of it as interdisciplinary,” Rishab said. “I want to continue to find ways to integrate these frameworks I’m making with other things in the future.”

In fact, Rishab makes connections with areas entirely separated from science. He frequently analyzes and has discussions about current news with his friends.

“He’s not just focused on science: he does politics, and he does sports as well,” close friend William Zhao (12) said. “He’s very knowledgeable about a lot of different subjects.”

Rishab believes his ability to draw unique and novel connections results from his creative mind. Additionally, he finds joy in probing the unexplored, hoping to find new solutions and technologies through analysis.

“You have to be able to take those [equations] and develop your own mindset and your own perspective, and be able to take those in ways that other people might not expect, because that’s what makes you unique,” Rishab said. “That’s what creativity is.”

After instructing Rishab for two years in physics classes and mentoring him in research, Dr. Eric Nelson, upper school computer science and physics teacher, recognizes Rishab’s rare analysis skills. He notes that these skills prove to be useful in advanced STEM classes as well as in Rishab’s various research projects, including his recent work on discovering genetic patterns in diseases through linguistic examination.

“Rishab likes to dive deep and explore ideas,” Dr. Nelson said. “He is able to take a wide range of concepts that he picks up from multiple areas and then synthesizes them into a single problem.”

Rishab enjoys sharing the knowledge he has with the people around him; sometimes, he demonstrates this generosity just by helping students in his classes.

“I might be in class, where someone doesn’t understand a topic,” close friend Kailash Ranganathan (12) said. “They might not even be talking to Rishab, and they’ll say, ‘I don’t understand something.’ And then he will start explaining it. He’ll do it completely selflessly.”

Rishab’s desire to foster a more curious and knowledgeable community extends beyond the classrooms. He is a member of the Language and Linguistics Club and serves as an officer in Harker’s Programming Club and Science Competitions Club. However, his involvement surpasses even school walls. In his sophomore year, Rishab poured time and energy into the United States of America Physics Olympiad (USAPHO), a contest offered once a year that determines qualified physics students in the nation. As the pandemic hit, though, the olympiad was cancelled.

“[They] didn’t have the funding, and they didn’t have the equipment to do it,” Rishab said. “That was really disheartening. I realized there were a lot of stories of similar things happening around the world.”

After connecting with other students passionate about physics, Rishab founded the Online Physics Olympiad, a competition also focused on community building. Through his experiences at the Online Physics Olympiad and in clubs, he now understands the incredible potential for discovery among curious minds, and he hopes to foster such growth.

“The main goal I have as a leader is that I’m not trying to impose my will on others,” Rishab said. “It’s more about trying to make an environment where everyone feels like they can exhibit their opinion. Everyone has such curious ideas that you want to fuel that.”

Looking to the future with determination and with an open mind, Rishab hopes that analysis and curiosity will take him and others far.

“Never stop thinking, never stop creating,” Rishab said. “If you ever lose that joy for creating, it’s hard to bounce back. There’s always something that you can compute, and there’s always something that you can put your own twist on.”