Muna Oli, Young Scientist

When Muna Oli was 13, she accompanied her parents, wildlife ecologist Madan Oli and microbiologist Monika Oli, on a five-week trip to her father’s home village in Nepal. Not only did she bond with extended family, she also saw firsthand the suffering caused by extreme poverty and easily treatable illnesses. That journey made a huge impression on Muna, cementing her interest in science and medicine.

Muna, 18, is a senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Eastside High School and has been dual-enrolled at the University of Florida since she was 14. She’s aced classes at UF such as Intro to Nanotechnology and Intro to Biomedical Engineering. She intends to earn an MD/Ph.D. so that she can be both a clinical practitioner and researcher.

Her research in the UF labs of mentors Kevin Powers and Brent Reynolds focuses on gold nanorods and aptamers. She is using gold nanorods and a low-energy laser to heat and destroy cancer cells. Someday, this technology could become a high efficacy and low-side-effect treatment for cancer, since it leaves healthy tissue unharmed.

Muna’s research has already garnered her attention in the science world from here to California. She’s won numerous awards in competitions such as the International BioGENEius Challenge and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, published her research, and been a frequent speaker. Last year, she guest edited a special issue on nanotechnology for the Young Scientists Journal.

In addition to her research accolades, Muna’s participated in student government at Eastside, the prom committee, French Club, Speech and Debate, Thespians, and National Honor Society. She enjoys public speaking and sang with the Gainesville Youth Chorus when she was younger. She also holds a brown-black belt in karate.

“I’m really just a regular teenager,” she says. “I’m on Facebook way too much. I like to hang out with my friends. I like to text.”

Muna said her parents have always given her and sister Maya, 8, the opportunity to explore lots of different interests.

“Once we find something we love, our parents really support us,” she says.

Muna has applied to UCF, Berkeley, Washington University, Drexel and UF. If she decides to attend UF, she’ll start as a junior. Her plan is to major in biomedical engineering.

Write her friends, Drs. Drue and Keith Ferrante: “This young person is destined for great things. Our delight is that she is such a well grounded person.”