Summers are always hot in Texarkana, Arkansas. However, during his high school vacation in 2008, Taylor Wilson was committed to spending all of his free time in his warm garage finishing the project he had started to design a few years before. It was a huge challenge for a 14-year-old kid who was worried about energy supply constraints for the 21st century.
Finally, when the light bulb went on he knew he had succeeded. His deuterium fusion reactor was working. This sounds strange, and it is, in fact. This is something that very few people can do and even fewer in their own garages. But, this was only the beginning. Later on, Taylor deployed an advanced variation, a molten salt reactor that can be buried 10 feet deep in a garden that basically provides power to a typical household for 30 years without refueling. Because it’s made of sea salt, it doesn’t have the same risk of contamination as nuclear technology. Being only 14 years old, he made something that can potentially change the lives of millions of people.
Two years later, in Crownsville, Maryland another star was rising when Jack Andraka’s uncle suddenly passed away from pancreatic cancer. He was so stunned and sad, he wondered how this kind of thing can still happen with all the medical technology available nowadays.
With a laptop as his only tool, he started his research and afterwards deployment, based 100% on public information available on Google and Wikipedia. He found out that the “modern technology” currently used to diagnose this disease is more than 60 years old, is not accurate (30% false negatives), and is able to detect this disease only in the final stage, when there are few options available. On top of that, this disease is highly asymptomatic and the screening test is too expensive; it costs more than US$800 and it is not covered by most medical insurance. So, doctors don’t have any reason to prescribe this expensive test until they have a ridiculously high suspicion, but by then it is usually too late. The chance of survival today is under 2% once it is detected, the average lifetime after diagnosed: 5.5 months.
With these worrying statistics, Jack continued digging and found out that over the life cycle of pancreatic cancer more than 8000 proteins are released into the bloodstream. He focused his attention only on those that are released in the initial stage when the cancer is just starting and there are a lot of possibilities to treat it. He finally found a protein called Mesothelin, which is present in very small quantities, except where pancreatic, lung or ovarian cancers are forming. Then, he started to research material science and found out that there is a new carbon–based structure called a nanotube that has the ability to be configured to detect any protein.
He wrote a paper with his theory for building a nanotube that can detect Mesothelin and, therefore, pancreatic cancer, including a list of materials and budget to do it. He sent his paper to 200
universities asking for their lab to deploy his idea. In the following weeks, he received 199 rejections and just one “maybe.” It took three months to schedule an interview with the head of the lab who had responded positively to his letter and after that, he finally got access to a lab. After 7 months of hard work, Jack deployed a paper sensor that can detect the formation of pancreatic cancer in a very initial stage with 100% accuracy. The best part is that it only costs US$0.03! It is so cheap that it could be included in standard blood test screenings in the near future.
Jack’s sensor is now at the testing stage at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to be approved and officially released to the market if everything goes ok, as expected. If this happens, Jack’s invention will save literally millions of lives. Keep in mind that this was deployed by a 13-year-old kid, without a medical background, just by using public Internet information.
These stories raised a question in my mind: are kids nowadays smarter that they were 25-30 years ago? Because this kind of thing did not use to happen some time ago. If Jack’s sensor is finally released to the market and it brings the expected results, he will be a serious candidate for a Nobel Prize. He could even be one of the youngest people to win this award.
After thinking about it for a long time, I came to the conclusion that they are not; nowadays kids are not smarter. I think that there are two reasons why kids can now do these kinds of things:
- 20-30 years ago when I was a kid, if I wanted to investigate something I had to go to the library, be lucky enough to have a good librarian, and a lot luckier to find (after several weeks) what I was looking for. Today you can do this with a click in the browser of your computer.
There is a second reason, a deeper one:
- When I grew up I had to go through different stages. First, I had to pass elementary school, then study in high school, later go to university and finally, after all this, be able to make a major contribution to the world. By that time, I no longer had any desire. Kids, with all their energy, all their ingenuity of not having prejudices, now have direct access to all this information.
The digital era is changing the world, giving access to the knowledge we did not have before, and not only to geniuses (because it is clear that these kids are geniuses), but to everyone who has access to a different way of education.
Intraway has a leading role enabling Internet Operators to develop and manage broadband Internet access. More than 50 million retail customers are currently managed by the products developed by Intraway Corp.
Change is hushed… but is happening right now.