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Amazon trek opens teen's eyes

Student parlays winning science experiment into a 16-day environmental expedition.

September 08, 2010|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com
  • Amir Mojarradi makes his way through the Amazonian jungle with a machete.
Amir Mojarradi makes his way through the Amazonian jungle… (Courtesy of Amir…)

While most of his friends were spending their summers on the beach, Amir Mojarradi, a senior at La Cañada High, did something just a bit more exotic: He trekked the Amazonian jungle.

Last year, Mojarradi won a Los Angeles County science fair for his project dealing with efficiently creating electromagnetic generators to save copper and other resources.

This experiment earned him a free expedition with the Earthwatch Institute, valued at just under $4,000.

The Institute, a nonprofit organization that gives people ways to experience science with field research teams all over the world, gave Mojarradi choices between expeditions to Europe, Africa and South America.

He chose South America's Amazon, because it sounded like the most adventurous of them all.

"I was so used to being in a city like La Cañada or Los Angeles and I wanted to see what it was like being away from all of that and my parents for awhile," Mojarradi said.

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Before traveling through the Amazon, Mojarradi had been out of the United States only twice — once to Spain and later to Iran.

Mojarradi and a team of 14 people joined Dr. Richard Bodmer, an English ecologist, on his long-term research on the conservation of Amazonian wildlife in Peru and Brazil.

The Amazon didn't look quite the way Mojarradi had imagined it.

"I expected it to be an 'Indiana Jones' kind of jungle, with snakes all over; but it's actually a lot different," he said. "It's much more green and nature-like. They don't portray it like that in the movies."

For 16 days, the group traveled through the Amazon on a riverboat, researching endangered species such as caimans and piranhas.

"The trip opened my eyes to what that part of the world is like," Mojarradi said. "I have never seen or felt the Amazon before. It is one thing to see pictures of it and another thing to be in the humidity."

The trip taught him about more than just science. He learned about the culture of the Amazonian people and picked up some survival skills along the way.

"Dr. Bodmer taught me how to navigate if I was ever lost in the jungle," Mojarradi said. "I learned different ways to find water and make shelter. It's kind of like Boy Scouts, but in the jungle."

When Mojarradi arrived back home he realized those two weeks had changed him. When he left he was interested in electrical engineering, but now his passion is the environment.

After graduation from La Cañada High he hopes to attend Princeton University and major in engineering, and, eventually, to secure a job in environmental consulting.

His love for science has already taken him many places and there's plenty more stops along the way.

"I love doing science," Mojarradi said. "It's not something I just do for college or anything; it's just something that I love doing."

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