"Breakthrough" by Jack Andraka



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Jack Andraka: "Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the World"

Author: Jack Andraka (with Matthew Lysiak)

Title: Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the World

Publication: Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-236965-9; Introduction and nine chapters with numerous appendices, 240 pages, hardcover. Many black and white photos.

Author's own site.

In early 2014, CBS 60 Minutes (my TV blog, Nov, 6, 2013) reported on Jack Andraka's medical innovation, of a simple laboratory test for proteins indicative of early stages of pancreatic cancer. It is possible to imagine that similar tests could be developed for other tumors. The test involves mixing antibodies to a particular protein with carbon nanontubes, introducing the patient's blood drop (or other fluid) that might have the protein in question, and look for change in electrical conductivity. He says the idea came to him in biology class by putting two ideas together. (Typical explanation by Smithsonian, here.) In theory, the idea could work to detect a lot of things. Maybe it could be engineered for quick identification of certain bacterial infections and prevent overuse of antibiotics.

Andraka won first place and the Gordon E. Moore Award at the ITEK science fair competition in Pittsburgh. His competition included a possible early test for Alzheimer's, and a new way to search the 'Deep Web'. He discusses a lot of other ideas from teen and college age scientists, which could even involve quantum computing and major cyber security innovations. At one point, he mentions telekinesis (maybe eventually teleportation, 'Smallville' style). I could chuckle, except that I think I have seen this happen once. Jack also discusses the Raman spectrometer, and imagines how it could lead to 'Fantastic Voyage' style healing of disease with nanorobots, rather a premise for the TV series 'Jake 2.0'.

In fact, one has to mention his older brother, Luke, now in college at Virginia Tech. Luke did a project on acid mine drainage (here ) which could relate to one of my favorite topics like mountaintop removal and coal strip mining,

In fact, on a couple of occasions, authorities questioned the brothers about the scope of their science experiments at home, and once (for Luke) at school.

The other main part of the book, of course, is Jack's personal narrative, about his coming out as gay in middle school, around seventh or eighth grade. I was shocked at the level of harassment that was still permitted in this 'blue state' school as late as 2000. Even Luke had a hard' time dealing with it at first.

It is interesting to compare to my experience in the 1950s. It just wasn't possible in those days to announce it; but I was teased for being behind other boys physically. My experience got much better in senior school (tenth grade then). But then I was thrown out of William and Mary in the fall of 1961 after effectively being force-outed, and then admitting 'latent homosexuality' to the Dean of Men. As far as physical non-competitiveness, that was a stereotyped association with homosexuality in m in past decades. Andraka relates having become an accomplished kayaker and swimmer. (No, he doesn't need the concussions of football, anymore than Malcolm Gladwell.) I once tried kayaking unsuccessfully, at a company party in 1997 (shortly after my first book was out), rather unsuccessfully, as related on my main blog Oct. 9, 2007.

That narrative generates the course of my own 'Do Ask Do Tell' books. Jack's level of detail is comparable to mine in the first chapter of my first DADT book (1997), on Amazon. My narrative tends to be a little more abstract.

I also had science projects in high school, but much less ambitious. In tenth grade, I made a wooden diagram of human anatomy. In my senior year, when I was 'inducted' into the Science Honor Society in my own basement (Dec. 9,, 1960) I had a project replacing carbon with silicon in certain compounds, with the idea that silicon could somehow support Martian life. Another speaker proposed a medical research project that in retrospect predicted the HIV research that would occur 25 years later. That particular speaker's project reminds me that science fair projects can indeed predict innovations that will occur (or become necessary) in the coming years, sometimes far out in the future.

The book has an Appendix, 'The School of Jack' (that sounds like the title of a future Jorge Ameer film doesn't it, like 'The House of Adam'), in which he gives 'recipes' for home science experiments, like how to make rain clouds. He also provides advice on anti-gay bullying, particularly online, and is rather blunt about the possibility of having to hibernate or delete social media accounts (especially Twitter) which seem unable to prevent bullying.