Future Nobel Prize Laureates

IMG_0141Marie Currie, Albert Einstein, Watson and Crick, Banting and Macleod (and Best), Alexander Fleming, Linus Pauling, Planck, McClintock. The great ones who came before. This past week in Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to chaperone The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. At IISEF this year, 1778 students competed from 78 countries around the world. Students showcased their research and competed for on average $4 million in prizes. These top young scientific minds have their projects reviewed and judged by doctoral level scientists. The breadth and depth of the projects was remarkable. Project highlights of Canadian students that I talked to included a membrane-based nanostructural biosensor to detect hemolytic bacteria (grade 9), a novel diagnostic for the detection of prostate cancer using exosome analysis (grade 11), an iron regulating hydrogel for the treatment of diseases with iron dyshomeostasis (grade 12), and an enzymatic biofuel cell for the generation of clean and reliable electrical energy (grade 11). At times, I could follow their scientific reasoning, but at other times, well not so much. Always skeptical, I had doubts about the origins of these projects.  High school students coming up with this stuff?  After talking to the students, hearing what motivated their projects – their ideas came from them.  The student working on prostate cancer lost his grandfather because the current diagnostic required a lengthy wait time.  The student went to work, and developed a diagnostic that significantly reduced wait time. The student that worked on the biofuel cell began the project three years ago, and has been modifying and tweaking his model on his own, or with input from research labs via SKYPE. The bottom line – these kids were impressive.  As they met with past Nobel prize laureates, I am certain that those past Nobel prize laureates met future Nobel prize laureates. Personally, I found the experience of being with these students for one week was enriching, and humbling.  Standing in the presence of future (and present) greatness.

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