Giving through science

Jay Iyer is using his science smarts to share COVID-19 information and support medical research in his grandfather’s memory

When Jay Iyer was 4 years old, he spent his afternoons following his grandpa, Mani, around the garden. Mani grew spice plants like red chili peppers, which he used when cooking traditional Indian food.

But Mani gave his grandson more than a cooking lesson. He taught Jay about biology, photosynthesis, and why certain plants grow better than others. Mani gave him the gift of knowledge and fostered the young boy’s love of science that continues to grow today.

Jay is now a 17-year-old senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School with an 11-page resume. It’s filled with perfect GPA and ACT scores, lists of leadership roles in science clubs at school, multiple first-place awards, nonprofit startups and volunteer positions.

When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Research Science Institute set out to recruit  84 of the most accomplished high school students for its summer program, Jay was one of the students they chose. But then the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the nation, and he was unable to physically attend the competitive science and engineering research program.

But Jay figured out a way to virtually work with those high school kids from all over the country to make a difference.

They created a website, findcovidtests.com, to help people quickly find critical information about testing sites.

During the pandemic, he also helped create the nonprofit HELM, Helping Everyone Learn More. HELM offers kids around the world free virtual classes in a variety of subjects. Through the site, Jay virtually teaches microbiology to about 20 kids for one hour each day, Monday through Friday.

The future is bright for Jay. He is hoping to attend Harvard, majoring in biomedical engineering with a minor in neuroscience.

Because he is spending his senior year learning virtually, Jay breezes through his school work in a few hours, which leaves him plenty of time to focus on his philanthropy, including the Mani Iyer Neurological Disease Relief Network.

The nonprofit is named to honor the memory of his grandpa Mani, who died in 2019 after suffering from a rare neurological disease, called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy or PSP. The nonprofit provides information and support to families going through the same challenges his family faced.

“I’ve always had the drive to help. I told myself that this is my life’s work,” Jay says. “I will be able to find cures for rare neurological diseases that have affected my family. I get my happiness from helping other people. Life is not all about what you do but what you do for others.” helmlearning.com, mindreliefus.org

This article was originally published as part of the October 2020 cover story of 225 Magazine.