Wednesday was “change the world” day at Northern Illinois University. And since the students were away on Spring Break, it was a good opportunity to invite local high schoolers interested in medical careers to meet one of their own.
Inventing an inexpensive early-detection device for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer is inspiring…to say the least. Doing it at the age of 15? And now kicking off his first book tour instead of sitting in class his senior year in high school? Now that’s impressive. And that’s Jack Andraka, an 18 year old from Baltimore who was invited to speak to 300 high school students at NIU. “My biology teacher was very opposed to this,” he said. “She didn’t think I could do it, my parents didn’t think I could do it. They’re like ‘You’re 14, you can’t do cancer research.’ I was determined, I thought my idea was a winner.”
Gillian King Cargile is director of NIU’s STEM Read. She says you couldn’t find a more fitting representative for Change the World Day. “He’s not only doing amazing research, he’s doing it with tools we all can use. He started with Google and Wikipedia.”
The inspiration isn’t a one-way street for Andraka. This audience, from Huntley, Sycamore, and Kaneland high schools, is on the same medically-focused track. “Some of the research they are doing is absolutely amazing. There’s one kid doing research on glioblastoma!” said Andraka. “It was amazing to hear these kids' stories and their tribulations and that made me work harder on my own innovations.”
There’s another point of connection for Andraka and many of the students: he was bullied, first as "the science and math kid," then as "the gay kid.” With the help of family and friends, he threw himself into his research.
“I think that everyone needs to hear that life does get better. Your life is not defined by a single crappy moment. People can be jerks, but that doesn’t mean you have to be weighed down by that because you are going to be awesome and help change the world.”
Andraka continues to develop his cancer test and hopes to have it go through FDA trials within the next five years. Meanwhile, he’s promoting his book “Breakthrough,” exploring the use of nano robots to treat cancer, developing ink jet printable sensors that can detect environmental contamination, has secured a date for prom -- and is planning to make it back home in time for graduation.