To carry on our discussion series, “The Science of Disruption”, a series devoted to the stories of young scientists and entrepreneurs who refuse to be bound by convention, we’re joined by Usman Kamran. An impressive young mind who already holds patents on several biomedical devices and is currently pioneering new ways of generating electricity from harnessed acoustic energy, Usman is leading by doing. Guided by mentors and without formal training, he has risen to prominence as a leader and an innovator. Deservedly recognized as one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20, we were amped by the opportunity to sit down with him to learn more about his own ‘scientific’ method for disruption.
Where did your scientific research and development begin?
All of it started in science fairs in eighth grade. Everyone thinks that when you are at a certain level that you always started off big. But my first science project was very basic. The key to getting to the level that I’m at right now is by cultivating the skills I honed in on in science fairs. Things like presentation skills, how you think about your data and how you analyze it, what experiments you do, and understanding the broad applications.
What made you kick-start your own 'lab'?
It started with teachers encouraging me to explore things I was curious about. I had already begun thinking about long-term and large complex problems. Although it mainly began with a burning desire to make a meaningful impact on the world I live in, whilst at the same time exploring my own interests.
How did you break into this sophisticated field without formal training AND at such a young age compared to most?
Some of the greatest innovators of our era started their careers off at earlier ages than I did. I’ve always held myself to the standard that if they could do it, why couldn’t I? The internet has vastly levelled the playing field and has, more or less, paved the way for me to conduct research in pretty much the same manner in which you would find in today’s hifi facility.
What motivates you to solve big problems?
I’m of the mindset that if there are big problems than they are worth solving. I don’t want to be just part of the movement that solves big problems, I want to be the one that leads it.
You’ve made ripples in sophisticated fields of science, how did you manage to do this?
First, you have to be self-motivated. You don’t want to be doing something because someone else is telling you to do it, but rather because you are inspired by the work you are doing. Second, I’ve had fantastic mentors encouraging me to funnel my drive for innovation into some really creative projects.
How have scientists and researchers reacted to the breakthrough results made in your home lab?
Everyone has been incredibly supportive and excited. No matter whom I approached they wanted to see my projects succeed. Some responses have inspired me to delve even deeper.
Any recommendations for others who want to lead trends and not just follow them?
I’ve been repeatedly encouraged to follow my dreams. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I would recommend that anyone with that little itch or desire to take on a challenge or solve a problem, even if its just a small idea or answer, to go ahead and see it through.
You've already secured some patents and have others pending. Tell us about that.
It’s a meticulous process and takes a lot of work, but once it goes through, it is all worth it. Its important to do because you want to make sure your intellectual property is secure.
What has helped the most with your success as an innovator and researcher?
My goal is to always try and find a better or different solution to a persistent issue. I try to be open to an out-of-the-box solution and do things that no one else had done before.
How did you manage to get the experts' attention at the start of your journey?
I made sure that the way I presented was really eye-catching. I needed to know everything about what I had done, I needed be an expert. That contributed to catching their attention, so that when there were flaws, it was clear that I could fix them.
What were your biggest alliances?
My mentors have been the biggest allies that I could have ever hoped for. My bio teacher from high school played a massive role in cultivating my interests. She was always there encouraging me to go further with my projects. Also my participation in the SHAD Valley program really helped me envision how I could turn my research into a commercial venture.
What's ahead for you in 2015?
There are some exciting projects ahead, 2015 is going to be a big year for me. I’m working on taking all the research and work I’ve done into scalable ventures. I’ve got another exciting project that I haven’t revealed yet, but it's going to be released in 2015. It could cause quite a stir in the medical diagnostics community, so keep an eye out for that!