Rahil Samlal, from St Doms science buff to joining international biology team

Rahil Samlal, Newcastillian
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The pursuit of excellence is a journey which requires discipline and sacrifice. It requires the ability to transcend the shackles of everyday life to reach greatness.

At just 20 years of age, Rahil Samlal is well on his way to obtain his dreams of excellence. This follows Rahil becoming the ambassador for South Africa for SynthEthics, an international initiative which is driven by brilliant researchers and students from around the world.

SynthEthics facilitates discussions about ethics, legislation and how the world can keep up with innovations from the huge and diverse field of synthetic biology.

As an ambassador for the initiative, what is expected from the former St Dominics Newcastle learner?

“My role as an ambassador for South Africa is multifaceted,” Rahil explains.

As the South African ambassador, Rahil says submitting well-researched and relevant articles form one of his duties. “I recently submitted an article about the biohacking community.”

Furthermore, Rahil also helps accumulate, fact-check and post resources to help people understand ethics.

“We also assist with ethical evaluations for people getting involved with synthetic biology research. Currently, I am assisting a team at the internationally genetically modified machine (iGEM) competition, hosted in Europe, with their ethics assessment.”

Rahil also helps alleviate some of the fear around synthetic biology and its risks. This is to educate people on the role it plays within our everyday lives.

Furthermore, describing synthetic biology as part of the fourth industrial revolution, Rahil says the initiative will also assist where legislation moves slower than innovation. By helping address fears and legislation around synthetic biology, Rahil and the SynthEthics team hopes to see the world move forward.

“Anyone who is interested in science or philosophy, or doing research can join. I am currently looking to build a South African national team working under SynthEthics,” Rahil says.

This, he explains, is because the issues which Africa faces are very different from issues in Europe, China and other continents.

How did Rahil begin his journey with SynthEthics?

Rahil’s journey began in 2018 when attending the INTEL ISEF in the United States, the largest pre-college science fair in the world in May of 2018. He was part of a group of eight young scientists from South Africa.

Rahil also hosts a Podcast named The Dialogue Podcast with a close friend of his, Asande Vilane, who is a second-year medical student at UCT.  The Podcast focuses on social issues, student issues and science.

But his journey truly began when he attended the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS), which included attending the Nobel Price week with the king and queen of Sweden, in December 2018.

“I was one of 25 young scientists around the world, representing South Africa and Africa as a whole.”

During his time in Stockholm, he gave a speech to students, parents and researchers at SIYSS about his research at the time.

He also attended lectures at Stockholm University given by Nobel Prize laureates about their work which led them to receive Nobel Prizes.

During this time, he had the opportunity to meet Nobel laureates at the Stockholm National Museum at the Nobel Prize Reception event, where he also met a number of ministers.

This experience led Rahil to seek answers to a pressing question he held. “I wanted to know about failure. I have always struggled with the issue of failure and accepting it. Therefore, I wanted to know how Nobel laureates dealt with failure.”

He received his answers from Dr P Allison, an American immunologist. Dr Allison has won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Tasuku Honjo.

“He told me about learning fom his failures and persevering through challenges. He also told me to find something which motivated me to keep me going and that resonated deeply with me.”

Furthermore, during his time at the event, he met Erik Hartman, who was part of the organising committee for SIYSS. As well as Blanka Novák, who was a participant at the event.

Hartman and Novák cofounded SynthEthics which consists of members from the United Kingdom, United States, Israel, Sweden, Singapore and Hungary.

When the duo reached out to Rahil in 2019, he admits having been slightly apprehensive. However, since joining and after his experience in Sweden, he says the whole trajectory of his life has shifted, becoming more profound and rewarding.

“My focus on everything that I do is, how can I help people? How can I solve the problems in the world?”

This, Rahil says, stems from being a finalist at the Eskom International Science Fair. An event where he won the University of Pretoria Dr Derek Gray Award. “That day, literally defined me as a person,” Rahil enthuses.

Rahil is currently doing the second year of his undergraduate degree, studying Microbiology with a subdiscipline in physiology, through the University of Pretoria.

As he becomes part of a positive change in the world, Rahil Samlal is truly proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the scientific world.

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5 Responses

  1. It was an absolute pleasure being interviewed by Quenton again, a truly talented writer. Always hav fun catching up with interviews.

  2. Well done Rahil. You are an example of the true scientist. We are so proud of you and my only regret is that you did not get to meet my beloved husband, the late Dr Derek Gray, in person. Congratulations for being a living example of hoe LIGHT COMES OUT OF THE DARKNESS.
    Professor Rosemary Gray

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