In an unexpected turn of events, a Virginia high school freshman, Heman Bekele of W.T. Woodson High School, has emerged as the winner of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, securing the title of "America's Top Young Scientist" along with a substantial $25,000 award. What began as a quest for a fun science experiment evolved into a groundbreaking initiative as Bekele created a soap with the ambitious goal of treating skin cancer.
Inspired by memories of individuals toiling long hours under the relentless sun in Ethiopia, his native country, Bekele was motivated by a heartfelt mission. Recognizing that skin cancer disproportionately affects those in developing countries and confronted with the staggering cost of operations, often around $40,000, he embarked on a journey to bridge this healthcare gap.
Expressing his concerns, Bekele stated, “I was devastated by the idea of people having to choose between treatment and putting food on the table for their families. There are so many preventable deaths.” Driven by this awareness, the aspiring scientist delved into extensive research on skin cancer, focusing on dendritic cells crucial for immune system responses against cancer cells.
The soap's formulation became a meticulous process, involving ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and tretinoin, aimed at stimulating dendritic cells effectively. One significant hurdle was preventing the soap from flaking, a challenge Bekele overcame through a combination of moisturizer, coconut oil, and organic shea butter.
While lauded for his ingenuity, Bekele acknowledges the value of persistence in overcoming obstacles. Medical experts, including Dr. Eric D. Whitman, the medical director of Atlantic Health System Cancer Care, commend the invention's potential. Dr. Whitman, emphasizing the need for further clinical testing, acknowledges the soap as an "interesting way of creating a topical immune activating agent that could help treat or prevent some skin cancers."
Despite the need for more rigorous testing, Bekele's remarkable efforts have sparked optimism, with experts hoping for continued exploration and potential collaboration with clinical centers. This young scientist's journey stands as a testament to the transformative power of youthful innovation in addressing pressing global health challenges.
In an extraordinary convergence of passion, innovation, and mentorship, Heman Bekele, a Virginia high school freshman, clinched the title of "America's Top Young Scientist" and a $25,000 award in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Bekele's groundbreaking soap designed to treat skin cancer not only reflects scientific prowess but also embodies a commitment to societal impact.
Over the summer, Bekele collaborated with mentor Deborah Isabelle, a product engineering specialist at 3M in Minnesota, to refine his soap. Supported by researchers from the University of Virginia, FCPS teachers, and his parents, Bekele's journey epitomizes the collaborative spirit of scientific exploration.
His parents, Muluemebet G. Ejigu and Wondwossen B. Gemechu, shared insights into Bekele's early passion for STEM, highlighting his self-driven nature and relentless motivation to challenge himself. "We, as parents, believed in him, created the environment and space, encouraged him to follow his dreams and to try things that seem to be impossible," they noted. Advocating for the importance of giving back, they expressed pride in their son's accomplishment and eagerness to witness his future endeavors.
In a field of ten competitors, Bekele's victory was announced at 3M’s Global Headquarters, where participants were evaluated on criteria including ingenuity, application of STEM principles, passion and research demonstration, presentation skills, and the ability to inspire others.
Looking ahead, Bekele plans to utilize his cash prize to secure a patent for his soap and fund his college education. His vision extends beyond personal success, as he aspires to launch a nonprofit organization to distribute his soap in low-income communities, showcasing a commitment to making a difference on a broader scale.
Mentor Deborah Isabelle expressed gratitude for the privilege of supporting Bekele, emphasizing his drive and inspiration. Reflecting on the experience, Isabelle noted that Bekele's project exemplifies the potential to address global challenges through determination. In a poignant reminder to adults, she highlighted that "all it takes to solve the world’s problems is the determination to do so," underscoring the transformative power of youthful vision and perseverance.
In the remarkable journey of Heman Bekele, we witness not just the triumph of a brilliant mind but the convergence of mentorship, passion, and a resolute commitment to societal impact. His groundbreaking soap, developed with the guidance of mentor Deborah Isabelle and bolstered by collaborative support from the University of Virginia researchers, FCPS teachers, and devoted parents, transcends the realm of scientific achievement.
Bekele's story is more than a tale of scientific ingenuity; it is a testament to the power of fostering curiosity and determination in young minds. His parents, champions of his early interest in STEM, exemplify the essential role of a supportive environment in nurturing innovation.
As Bekele charts his course forward, intending to secure a patent and further his education, his vision extends beyond personal success. The aspiration to launch a nonprofit organization underscores a deep-rooted commitment to address healthcare disparities in low-income communities, marking the essence of impactful innovation.
Mentor Deborah Isabelle's reflections remind us that solutions to global challenges often emerge from the determination of individuals like Bekele. The culmination of this journey serves as an inspiring reminder that the future is shaped not only by scientific breakthroughs but by the unwavering belief that challenges, no matter how daunting, can be overcome through resilience and vision.
Heman Bekele's achievement is not merely a recognition of his scientific prowess; it is a call to adults to embrace the determination inherent in youthful minds. As Bekele pioneers impact through innovation, his journey resonates as a beacon, illuminating the path for future generations to follow — a path guided by curiosity, collaboration, and a steadfast commitment to making a meaningful difference in the world.