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     I was a math teacher at a high school in Chula Vista, California.  A few months after Columbine, there was a similar shooting rampage by a high school freshman at a high school a few miles away.  My kids came to school the next day and they were scared.  I wanted a way to explain to them that the boy who took so many lives the day before wasn’t average and wasn’t normal.  I did it by drawing a bell curve.

I pointed that people behave in many different ways and if you put it on a curve of good vs. evil and how they will eventually benefit society, most people fall near the middle.  I explained that if you look at all 7 billion people in the world, this shooter was about 15 feet to the left side of the curve on the evil side, such a small group and so evil that there were just a very small handful of 15 year olds that had done or in their life would do something as horrible and evil as this one person.

Then I pointed out the converse.  I promised them that there was another student their age who was so talented, so kind, and so smart that someday he would do something that would save many more lives than this shooter would ever take but there was one problem.  It would be his or her life’s work that would come to fruition in 30 more years in a research lab somewhere and while we and our children and grandchildren might benefit from it in untold ways, it would never show up as Breaking News on CNN with helicopters orbiting and hundreds of people cheering.  That’s just the way our screwed up society is.  We celebrate our villains and can’t quite remember the names of our heroes.  And my students would never think about the fact that at one time this future hero was, at one time, just like them sitting in 9th grade Geometry. And now we are  coming down from another horrible experience involving guns and kids.

Only a sophomore in high school, Jack Andraka may have invented a new test for a deadly form of cancer. (Ethan Hill, Smithsonian Magazine)
Read more: Original Article Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

And then I found out about 15 year old Jack Andraka.  Remember that name.  You will hear it again.  Jack is considered by his classmates to be the prototypical Young Frankenstein, a true mad scientist.  He comes from a normal overachieving family.  His father is a civil engineer and his mother is a hospital anethsetist.  His older brother is into science as well.  His uncle recently died of Pancreatic Cancer, one of the deadliest and most common forms of cancer in our country killing 40,000 each year.   And Jack has an obsession.  Since his dad introduced him to the concept, Jack wanted to find an application for carbon nanotubes.  Nanotubes are tiny particles 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair and they have interesting electrical particles.  He was reading a paper about nanotubes in biology class when the teacher started talking about antibodies.

Jack then spent the next 7 months combining the two concepts.   Jack magically mixed the protein indicator for Pancreatic cancer and carbon nanotubes.  He then dipped the paper into a small sample of blood. The conductivity then changed in a significant and measurable way to detect the  blood from a person with pancreatic cancer.  And it was 160 times faster, 126,000 times cheaper and almost 100% accurate compared to existing tests. Jack has patented what is now believed to be a cheap and reliable test for Pancreatic cancer that can discover the precursors of Pancreatic Cancer as a part of a routine physical.  The greatest way to cure cancer is through early detection.  Pancreatic Cancer does not become symptomatic until it has become almost incurable.  Steve Jobs died of Pancreatic Cancer after living with it for 9 years.  94% of patients don’t make it to 5 years.

Jack Andraka’s simple dipstick method for Pancreatic Cancer Detection could save many lives after it goes through testing.   Jack won a $100,000 prize at Intel and is forming a company to exploit his patent.  And at 15 years old, Jack Andraka probably has a couple of more tricks up his sleeve.

We are all looking for a positive context after the so many children were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut.  Many children wake up with nightmares about the Dylan Klebolds and Adam Lanzas.  Jack Andraka is at the other end of the bell curve from those boogie men.  And for many young children,  his story might be a nice bedtime story to keep the villains away.

Read more: Original Article about Jack in Smithsonian.com

About Rick Lakin

A retired math teacher, Rick is a WordPress Web Designer, political consultant, broadcast TV sports statistician, Toastmaster, photographer and mentor to young media professionals.

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