Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Inspiration Can Help
Jacob Fattal, Publisher
We have heard many gloom-mongers talk about the pitiful state of the American education system, and the fact that so few high school graduates go on to study science or engineering in college. They bemoan the fact that we are still sending far too few young people off to college for technology degrees. The empty slots in those classes are being filled by eager and determined students from other countries — just about every place except from North America.

Then along comes an incredible story about a teenage genius putting together an early, simple and incredibly inexpensive early diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer. It was semiconductor giant Intel that awarded its $75,000 grand prize at the Intel

International Science and Engineering Fair to Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old high school student from Crownsville, Maryland. The test involves an exceedingly low-key bit of filter paper that has been soaked in a solution of carbon nanotubes. Telltale antibodies load up the nanotubes and cause a difference in electrical resistance measured with a $50 ohmmeter that Jack bought at Home Depot. He estimates that the actual cost of materials for one test can be as little as 30 cents.

Jack was inspired by the untimely death of an uncle from pancreatic cancer, a type of cancer that is usually not detected until it is very advanced and then is virtually untreatable.

The teenage genius was very persistent in his quest for the use of lab facilities. He sent out over 200 e-mails to various researchers, got 200 rejections, and one "Yes, let's talk" from Dr. Anirban Maitra, a pathologist and researcher at Johns Hopkins. He not only provided use of a lab, but also lots of encouragement and mentoring.

Medical breakthroughs like this take years before they can go mainstream. But Jack is a pusher and a go-getter. He already has a patent in the works, is in great demand on the lecture circuit, and is an inspiration to American high school students all over the country. Now if that inspiration level can just induce 20 or 30,000 students to pursue science and/or engineering, maybe, just maybe this prodigy will help alleviate our current shortage of such people. And cheers for Intel for fostering such an outstanding and inspirational program. And just when we thought our education system was going to the dogs. . .  

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