Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Jack Andraka: "Breakthrough:
How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the World"
Author: Jack Andraka (with Matthew
Title: Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the
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
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.