Niskayuna siblings recognized in national contest

Niskayuna sisters Simran Utturkar (on left) and Rhea Utturkar (on right), whose illustrated poems were recently recognized in a national contest.

Niskayuna sisters Simran Utturkar (on left) and Rhea Utturkar (on right), whose illustrated poems were recently recognized in a national contest.

NISKAYUNA – Two Niskayuna sisters showed off their scientific and poetic prowess after winning national recognition in the American Chemistry Society’s National Chemistry Week Illustrated Poem Contest.

“It feels really great,” said 15-year-old Simran Utturkar as she sat next to her 9-year-old sister and fellow national winner, Rhea Utturkar.

The annual competition invites students from kindergarten through 12th grade to create an illustrated poem reflecting on a designated theme, including this year’s, which was “Fabulous Fibers: the Chemistry of Fabrics.”

The eldest Utturkar wrote her poem about the utilization of fibers in medical innovation and technology and featured intricate drawings of bones, chemical bonds, and a runner with a prosthetic leg. For her, it was a chance to convey one of her deepest scientific fascinations.

“I really want to go into medicine when I’m older, and that’s always been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” said Utturkar, whose poem earned her first place in the Grades 9-12 category. “This poetry contest gave me the opportunity to write about the intersection between healthcare and chemistry at the same time — because I really like them both — but also be artistic and express it in a unique way.”

Rhea’s poem, which won second place in the Grades 3-5 category, focused on the abilities of different fabrics to withstand different weather conditions and seasons — an ode to her own love for meteorology.

“I want to be a meteorologist when I grow up and I love science and I love weather,” said the youngest Utturkar. “I thought about the four seasons and how you can use the type of fabrics and wear them.”

It’s the sisters’ second time being nationally awarded in the Illustrated Poem Contest. For the girls and their father, Yogen Utturkar, it’s a proud moment.

“The tenacity is also something I’d like to highlight because there was one year where neither of them won so when they still kept trying and this year we have both of them winning, so it is a very good feeling,” the girls’ father said.

Both of the girls had a list of mentors that they credited as inspiration and guides in their love for chemistry and their participation in this contest, including their science teachers through the years and even their pediatrician.

One of the people that Simran mentioned was Sherra Johnson, her current honors chemistry teacher at Niskayuna High School, who she said has helped her to learn and love chemistry even more. Johnson, however, was not surprised at the girls’ achievement, noting that Simran is one of her top honors chemistry students.

“I always want my students to use their science voice and using their science voice in different venues, if you will, just makes them a stronger student and a more well-rounded student,” Johnson said. “It really says a lot about [Simran] as a student as a whole.”

For their achievement, Simran and Rhea will not only receive $300 and $150 cash rewards, respectively, but their poems will also be published in the American Chemistry Society’s next journal.

“I’m really happy about the fact that my work will be published because it is a different representation of science through art and writing so I think it’s definitely unique,” Simran said. “And it makes me happy that other people can read it and get inspired by that.”

To read their poems and for more information about the contest, visit

Categories: -News-, News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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