These Teen Geniuses are Agents of Radical Change

1 | By Michael A. Robinson

He’s barely old enough to shave… but Jack Andraka is already hard at work helping America win the war on cancer.

Just last month, the Baltimore-area whiz kid took top honors at a key contest hosted by Silicon Valley legend Intel Corp. (NasdaqGS:INTC). He invented a low-cost, cutting-edge cancer screen that could save thousands of lives every year. Andraka now ranks as a rising star and radical change agent who could have a huge impact on high tech and medicine. He also pocketed a cool $100,000 in prize money.

And all at the ripe old age of 15…

He’s one of the reasons why I say it pays to remain upbeat about America’s future. He and these six other youngsters I’m about to name demonstrate how much innate talent we have in this country, and I believe that’s one reason we can’t help but succeed in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong. America faces big challenges – rising debt, chronic job losses, and political gridlock, to name but a few.

Yet we’re also the one country that steadily produces bright young entrepreneurs who change the world around them. Where others see obstacles, these teens see opportunities.

They go on to launch the Googles, Apples, and Microsofts of the world, and they leave a trail of wealth behind them.

As investors, we want to spot this talent before others do. That’s how we maintain the inside edge that vaults us ahead of the pack when new investment opportunities come along.

Fact is, kids today may not be any smarter than the Edisons and Fords of their day. But in the Era of Radical Change, they have the tools – sensors, computers, software and more – that scientists of old could only dream about.

Today, I want to introduce you to the seven young geniuses who are pushing the limits of science and high tech.

I’ve drawn their names from the list of winners of two recent contests sponsored by Intel. Here’s the thing. Some seven million high school kids from around the world compete in science contests each year. Only a handful makes it to the top of these elite events.

That’s why I think we need to start paying attention to these seven young geniuses today.

Teen Geniuses No. 1 and No. 2: The Andraka Brothers

I’ve already told you about Jack Andraka. His big brother Luke is no slouch, either. He won that same Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) award two years ago for a project that looked at how acid mine drainage affects the environment.

But certainly no one could accuse Jack of living in his big brother’s shadow. He won the 2012 grand prize that paid $75,000 and picked up other awards worth an extra $25,000. Jack came up with a simple dipstick sensor that can spot a key marker that shows the presence of cancer. Intel execs say Jack’s sensor is both 28 times faster and 28 times cheaper than current tests. It may even come to market someday – Jack has already applied for a patent.

Their mother says the boys spend little time with sports. They do have tons of science magazines lying around the house. The family often talks about big ideas and how people can do things in new ways.

Teen Genius No. 3: Ari Dyckovsky

An 18-year-old from Leesburg, Va., Ari Dyckovsky took a very esoteric field of science and used it to improve cyber security. He found that that once atoms are linked together through a process called “entanglement,” data from one atom can simultaneously appear in another atom.

Using this method, groups that need high levels of network security could send encrypted messages long distances without the risk of theft. That’s because the data wouldn’t need to “travel” to its new location; it would simply appear there.

Teen Genius No. 4: Nicholas Scheifer

OK, there’s one guy on the list who doesn’t live in America. Turns out he’s Canadian and hails from the Toronto area. But like many foreign-born high-tech whizzes, he made his name right here in the Good Old USA.

Nicholas Scheifer, 17, claimed the ISEF $50,000 second prize this year. Turns out his hunch about how to improve search-engine results was correct. He tweaked standard queries so they would work better in a mobile world that values shorter texts, like those from Twitter and Facebook.

“The issue is how to make search engines understand the subtlety of words the way humans do,” Nicholas said. “There’s a lot of exciting information out there, but it’s useless unless we can find it.”

Teen Genius No. 5: Nithin Tumma

In March, Nithin Tumma won $100,000 in Intel’s annual science talent search. His project could lead to a better, less toxic treatment for breast cancer. Tumma also found some potential targets for future cancer therapies.

He studied the molecules operating inside cancer cells and found that by thwarting certain proteins, doctors might be able to slow the growth of those cells and make them less deadly. He’s 18 and hails from the Detroit area.

Teen Genius No. 6: Andrey Sushko

Don’t tell this 17-year-old that model boats are just toys.

Andrey Sushko turned his childhood hobby into a robotics breakthrough. That’s how he took 2nd place in the Intel talent search and walked away with $75,000.

Hailing from Richland, Wash., he designed a tiny motor that uses the surface tension of water to turn its shaft. Experts say it could help push forward the field of micro-robotics. The son of two scientists, Andrey is now collaborating with a key federal lab on ways to improve the motor.

Teen Genius No. 7: Mimi Yen

Mimi Yen‘s study of worm mutations won her $50,000. The 17-year-old from Brooklyn plans to attend Harvard University, with an eye toward a degree in biology. She mapped the gene that causes mutant behavior in a microscopic worm often used in research. Intel execs say Mimi’s work may help scientists learn more about how genes affect variations in human behavior.

Let me close by noting that not every teen these days wastes time texting or watching reruns of the TV show Jersey Shore. Many really do get out of bed every day looking for ways to change the world. In the Era of Radical Change, a lot of them will succeed in doing exactly that.

And we’ll be watching…


One Response to These Teen Geniuses are Agents of Radical Change

  1. qkcmnt says:

    Hooray! Thanks, Michael, for a great overview of what today’s teens are doing outside the box.

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