Arnav Nanda and Owen Chitester Win Conrad Challenge

By: Hadi Rahim and Jessica Hudnut

Space exploration is seen by many as humanity’s next step into the future, but there are many obstacles that humans have yet to overcome in order to conquer the final frontier. These obstacles include finding ways to travel through space quickly, efficiently establishing life on other planets, and making space travel more affordable.  There are also some lesser-known problems that may seem minor at first but have major consequences. Over the course of the last year, two Apex High School students have been developing a solution to one of these problems. 

Juniors Arnav Nanda and Owen Chitester recently won the Conrad Challenge with Tune, a product that aims to solve a problem that astronauts face in space called Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome, which can impact vision by altering the shape of the eye. Tune is a pair of glasses that addresses this problem with lenses that can change concavity to meet the user’s needs, alleviating strain on the eyes.

The Conrad Challenge is an academic challenge in which teams from all over the world compete using a combination of business and science to develop a product and create a business around that product. The challenge consists of three rounds: the Investors Pitch, Business Plan, and Virtual Finals/Innovation Summit.

The idea for Tune came from a seemingly mundane place. While Arnav was thinking about needing new glasses, he was inspired to create his own. Six months of collaboration with Owen would turn this idea into a fully-realized product, marketed toward NASA as the next innovation in spaceflight. 

While Arnav worked on the technical aspects of developing Tune, Owen formulated a business plan. While there were a few obstacles along the way, the two were able to successfully navigate the process of designing and marketing a product, right down to a patent application. 

Arnav described winning the challenge as a surreal experience. He recalls being in a state of disbelief when it was announced that he and Owen had won: “I started running around my house, hands over my head…My dad, he started jumping with me.” Owen, who was traveling and unable to watch in to the broadcast, found out that he had won from Arnav over FaceTime. Both were ecstatic, excitedly sharing the news with friends and family.

Arnav and Owen were initially nervous about being questioned by the judges, But they persevered through and were able to clear and confident answers. “I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why we won,” Owen says. “It’s because we handled those questions so well. We were listening to other presentations and other teams, either one person was answering every single question or they were giving half-answers.”

In addition to being well-prepared for questions from the judges, Arnav emphasized the importance of commitment to succeeding in the challenge. “My best advice: You’ve got to put in those hours.” Owen advises future Conrad Challenge participants to find a great partner that they can work well with and to be prepared with a great idea.

In the future, Owen plans to pursue finance, particularly applied to computer science. Arnav, who is currently doing research at Duke University, plans to pursue biomedical engineering, focusing specifically on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and ALS.

Both Cougars have a bright future and the Apex community looks forward to seeing what they do next.

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