Sudharshini Prasanna

Sudharshini Prasanna (Contributed photo)

Last summer, Clements High School senior Sudharshini Prasanna was sitting with her younger sister brainstorming ideas for the Breakthrough Junior Challenge video competition when her stomach growled.

Her younger sister laughed, but Prasanna had another idea – to explore and educate others on the inner workings of the process behind a bodily function that everyone experiences at one point or another. And last month, her 3-minute education video was selected as one of 30 semifinalists in the annual international competition.

“It just explores the interaction between the nervous system and the gastrointestinal system – basically the reason why the stomach growls when it’s empty,” the 17-year-old Prasanna said. “It’s kind of a complex phenomenon, but I tried to break it down, and make it funny and simple for people to understand.”

Prasanna said she has been interested in medicine since she was a kid, and is fascinated by the intersection of art and medicine through avenues such as the Breakthrough competition. She has her own YouTube channel where she said she tries to explain complex topics in a simpler format, and is interested in studying neurology – which includes examining and studying the nervous system as she did in her competition video.

She submitted her video in June, and it was selected out of hundreds of videos from around the world as one of the top 75 submissions that were to be evaluated by a panel of judges. It was from that grouping that her video was one of 30 semifinalists, which was announced in mid-August.

“It just made me really happy (when I found out),” she said.

Since Sept. 5, Prasanna’s video has been posted on the Breakthrough Challenge’s Facebook page. People around the world have been voting on the videos, according to the competition’s website. The entry which gets the highest combined total of “likes” and positive reactions on the original post of their video by the end of the day Monday will be named Popular Vote Top Scorer and will automatically be named a finalist. There will also be a regional champion in each of seven regions – North America, Central American, Europe, Asia, India, Middle East/Africa, and Australia/New Zealand – who will be named finalists.

Winners were set to be announced on Tuesday – but whatever the outcome, Prasanna was already over the moon with simply making it this far, and hopes her work can go beyond the competition.

“I’m so excited that so many more people – probably thousands of people – all over the world can get to know about this very simple body process that all of us experience,” she said.
 
Her video focuses on migrating motor complex, an electromagnetic process that happens in the smooth muscles of the small intestine and stomach during the fasting process, showing how electro-mechanical activity occurs in the muscles. When the stomach begins to rumble, Prasanna that’s the first stage of the process. The brain then sends a hormone called motolin into the digestive tract.

From there, electrical waves occur in the small intestine after it comes from the stomach. Those electrical waves are what create the rumbling sound, according to Prasanna. There are four phases to the process, she said, all of which can last a number of minutes – which is why people will often hear the stomach growling intermittently as opposed to doing so in one chunk.

“I had the realization that it’s a funny topic, and it’s also something that people like my sister and those her age would want to know,” she said.

For more information about the competition, visit breakthroughjuniorchallenge.org/.

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