At 15 years old, Jack Andraka made a radical discovery. The invention was a novel paper sensor that could detect pancreatic cancer — as well as ovarian and lung cancer — in the early stages. It was 168-times faster, 400-times more sensitive, and 26,000-times less expensive than the medical standard. As a result, Andraka’s research was honored at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) — which he described as the “Olympics of science fairs” — where he won the Gordon E. Moore Award.
“This was my childhood dream. I always wanted to go to Intel ISEF,” said Andraka after winning his award.
Andraka’s is a story of innovation and perseverance. When a close family friend passed away from pancreatic cancer, he realized that there was no effective early detection method for the disease. So, with the help of the Internet and modern computing, Andraka (pictured below) decided to discover one.
“I didn’t know what a pancreas was,” said Andraka. “I just used Google and Wikipedia to do all of my research.”
After diving into dozens of papers, Andraka finalized his idea and presented the plans for his project to 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Health. He received 199 rejections.
“I kind of became defiant because I wasn’t going to let some Sour Sally tell me what to do,” he said. “I was just like, ‘Eventually, one person will tell me yes if I bother them enough.’ That’s what happened.”
A year later, Andraka is delivering lectures across the world about his discoveries and the importance of the Internet and creativity.
“The Internet is this amazing tool that empowers us to really spread these ideas and improve our conditions. Through the Internet, anything is possible,” he said in his TEDx House of Parliament Talk. “Things can be shared and you don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued. You could be a high school kid like me.”
Most importantly, Andraka says to not underestimate the innovation of young minds.
“We’re kind of this epitome of creativity and knowledge, where we have enough creativity to come up with wild ideas,” he said. “We have enough knowledge to make them a reality.”