14-year-old Virginia student named America’s Top Young Scientist for creating soap that treats cancer

Mildred Europa Taylor October 20, 2023
Heman Bekele, a ninth grader at W.T. Woodson High School in Annandale, won the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge. (ACK | 3M/PR Newswire)

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and it is estimated that approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. It comes with an average annual treatment cost of $8.1 billion and is against this drawback that Heman Bekele, a ninth grader at W.T. Woodson High School in Annandale, developed a compound-based bar of soap that is designed to treat skin cancer and is affordable. 

The 14-year-old’s Melanoma Treating Soap has made him the winner of the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the nation’s premier middle school science competition. As the winner of the competition, Bekele will receive a $25,000 cash prize and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist”, according to a news release.

Four months ago, Bekele started competing against nine other finalists before eventually emerging as the winner during final Challenge events at 3M global headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., on October 9 and 10.

The second-place winner is Shripriya Kalbhavi, a ninth grader at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif., who developed EasyBZ, a cost-effective microneedle patch that allows for self-automated drug delivery without pills or needles, the release said.

Sarah Wang, a seventh grader at The Pike School in Andover, Mass, is this year’s third-place winner. She developed the Spring Epilepsy Detection Glove, a glove that can detect tonic-clonic and myoclonic epileptic seizures with common hand movements and tracks seizure statistics through a smartphone application. The second and third place winners will each receive a $2,000 prize.

Finalists are paired with a 3M scientist who will mentor them over the summer to take their idea from concept to prototype. Per the release, finalists were “evaluated on their ingenuity and innovative thinking, application of STEM principles, demonstration of passion and research, presentation skills, and ability to inspire others” during the competition.

The 3M Young Scientist Challenge began 16 years ago to challenge students to think creatively and leverage STEM to design creative solutions for real-world problems. Past winners have gone on to give TED Talks, file patents, found nonprofits, make the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and exhibit at the White House Science Fair, the release said.

Over the next five years, Bekele said he hopes to refine his innovation and create a nonprofit organization that will distribute his low-cost solution to areas in need. He is further hopeful of becoming a successful electrical engineer in the future and making an impact in the industry, Gray News reported.

“The need for scientists and innovators to develop solutions for the world’s biggest challenges has never been greater. This year’s Young Scientist Challenge finalists have demonstrated the skills required to reimagine what’s possible—intelligence, curiosity, collaboration, and resilience,” said John Banovetz, 3M executive vice president, chief technology officer and environmental responsibility.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 20, 2023


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