Intel 2012 Science Fair Champion

12 Feb

Jack Andraka won the Intel science fair in 2012 for inventing a cheap, fast, non-invasive, sensitive and accurate way of detecting early pancreatic, breast and lung cancer.  He gave a speech at San Jose Tedx about his process.

He says a few interesting things.  His research was started with simple google and wikipedia searches.  Wikipedia–usually held up as the poster-child for unreliable information.

He also ends his talk with the comment, “When I started, I didn’t even know what a pancreas was,” as proof of the power of real wondering combined with hard work.

Along the way, he also makes some not-so-positive remarks about his high school biology class, calling it, “the absolute stifler of innovation.”  I had mixed feelings about that.   I’m sure for Jack, a traditional biology class did feel stifling.  For a child with a homemade particle accelerator in his basement, a 50 minute per day period must be constraining.  And it would be amazing if every child had the opportunities that he did, with a family that had the time and ability to support his investigations.  At the same time, not every child is successful with a pure inquiry, go-where-your-wondering-takes-you approach.

I’m glad Jack found the support he needed to succeed.  And in later articles, there are plenty of positive scenes about his school, and in particular, his science classes.  But I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy for his high school biology teacher, who is probably working hard to provide the best, most inspiring class, that he or she can.

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