April 14, 2014 12:00 PM

Jack Andraka, 17

Created a Simple Test for Pancreatic Cancer

Motivated by the death of a close family friend, the Crownsville, Md., high school junior wanted to design a way to detect the disease in its early stages. He applied to 200 labs and was rejected by 199 of them. But working at a Johns Hopkins University lab, he came up with a test that costs three cents and gives results in just five minutes. “It’s a paper sensor coated in a carbon substance that attracts a protein in the bloodstream that is indicative of the cancer,” he explains, noting it also may help detect ovarian and lung cancers. More trials are needed, but Jack is in talks with companies to develop his test. Already he’s won the top prize at Intel’s 2012 Science and Engineering Fair. But at home, says mom Jane, “Jack still has to do his chores and homework and drives us crazy because he always has his earbuds in.”

Samantha Marquez, 18

Created artificial cell tissues

If not for her love of Shakira, and two-toned hair, you might not guess Samantha Marquez is a high school senior. The award-winning scientist from Richmond, Va., has seven patents pending, thanks to the artificial cell tissues she calls celloidosomes, which have many potential uses from repairing organs to purifying water. In her spare time, this daughter of a chemist and chemical engineer sees movies with friends (“I have a love-hate relationship with horror films”) and works on Alzheimer’s research. But celloidosomes are her passion: “This a project I’ve had since I was 12. I’ve seen it grow; it’s almost like it’s my baby.”

Joshua Meier, 18

A key to slowing down cancer?

From the time Joshua Meier could talk, says mom Elizabeth, “he needed to know how everything worked.” That meant tackling, as a high school freshman, a puzzle that long vexed scientists: Why do artificial stem cells age faster than natural ones? “I discovered that the process of making stem cells deletes mitochondrial DNA,” which ages them prematurely, he explains. His finding suggests that eliminating the same DNA in cancer cells could stop cancer from spreading. Says his teacher Dr. Robert Pergolizzi: “Joshua has found his calling at a very young age.”

Ann Makosinski, 16

Developed a flashlight powered by body heat

When a friend in the Philippines told her she failed a grade because she had no light to study by at night, this high school junior from Victoria, B.C., got to work. “Ann has always been a tinkerer,” says dad Art, a lab manager. Still, he was surprised when she figured out how to use thermoelectric tiles to harness body heat and power the light. Judges at the 2013 Google Science Fair awarded her a $25,000 scholarship, which led to TED talks, a Tonight Show spot and companies expressing interest; the light could be a lifesaving tool in natural disasters. “I want to make sure,” says Ann, “it is available to those who really need it.”

Parker Liautaud, 19

Exploring Antarctica for Climate Change

While his Yale classmates were cramming for exams last December, this sophomore from Palo Alto, Calif., trekked 350 miles in temperatures between -4º and -40º while hauling a 180-lb. sled. “I believe climate change is one of the most important challenges that my generation faces,” says Parker Liautaud, who collected snow samples and deployed a new weather station. “Our goal was to contribute to a better understanding of the climate system,” says Parker, who suffered minor frostbite. Already this arctic explorer has set a world record for the fastest walk from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole, in 18 days, 4 hours and 43 minutes. “Parker’s trek was an inspiration to us all,” says Rowan Douglas, chairman of the Willis Research Network, which funded the expedition.

Sara Volz, 18

Making Algae an Alternative to Fossil Fuels

After setting up a lab under her bed in Colorado Springs, Sara Volz spent four years trying to increase the oil output of algae. Why? “So one day it might become a viable alternative to fossil fuel,” she says. Didn’t she mind having algae growing under her bed? Not really. “It mostly smells like fresh-cut grass.” Her success so impressed the judges of the Intel Science Talent Search last year that Volz, now a freshman at MIT, won the grand prize. “She’s the real thing,” notes judge Hynda Kleinman of Volz, whose nickname in high school was the “Algae Girl.”

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