Can you explain—in layman’s terms—what the test you invented does?
Basically, it consists of some carbon nanotubes, atom-thick tubes of carbon, and antibodies, which bind and capture only this one cancer biomarker. So I had this network of these nanotubes and antibodies integrated into a paper sensor. So when you put a drop of someone’s blood onto the test strip, it will change its electrical properties. From that, you can determine whether someone has pancreatic, ovarian, or lung cancer. It can also assess how your treatment is progressing.
Does the test work better for early detection?
This sensor can detect late stage, early stage, or even before the cancer becomes invasive. And if you can detect the cancer before it becomes invasive, you have close to a 100-percent chance of survival.
How did you get the idea for it?
A close family friend passed from pancreatic cancer. I was sitting in biology class and we were learning about these antibodies. While I was learning about antibodies, I was also reading this really interesting paper on single-walled carbon nanotubes and their properties, and I kind of just connected the dots.
So are other doctors and scientists kicking themselves that they didn’t think of this?
Um, I guess you could say they’re kind of kicking themselves, but a bunch of communities are ecstatic about this breakthrough because it will revolutionize how we diagnose and treat diseases.
Dr. Anibran Maitra at Hopkins School of Medicine acted as a mentor, right?
He definitely did help me a lot along the way. Without him, this project would not have come through as well as it has.
The video of you winning the 2012 Intel Science Fair went viral over the summer. How did it feel to become an Internet meme?
I was pretty excited because it’s kind of cool to see yourself on websites.
The prize came with $75,000. What are you going to do with the money?
It’s actually a scholarship, so I have to enroll in college in order to use that. But I got $25,000 more in special prizes in cash. I just deposited it in the bank. No plans as to how I’m going to use it.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking at all my different options and still trying to see what I want to be when I grow up. Like, maybe a pathologist. But maybe I want to be an entrepreneur. So, I’m just weighing all my options at this point.
What do your parents say?
Do you want to talk to my mom?
No, it’s okay. I’m just wondering if they still make you clean your room and take out the trash.
Yeah, they make me do the usual teenager stuff.
Did you always like science?
Since I was three. My parents got me this model plastic river that I just played with all day and that really helped pique my curiosity in science. We would just put these model kayaks in it and test different hydraulics.
Do you still have a laboratory in the basement? Do you tinker?
Oh yeah! Me and my brother do all this stuff in the downstairs basement. We build random stuff. One time we made chlorine gas.
Chlorine gas? That’s a little dangerous. Did you get in trouble for that?
Uh, my mom put a halt to that.