By Kristina Houck
Eric Chen, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy, recently won the grand prize at the 2013 international Google Science Fair. The 17-year-old won for his project, which focuses on the development of an anti-flu medicine to fight a deadly infection from a new strain of the flu virus that could cause an epidemic.
“Current antiviral drugs are losing their effectiveness because resistant flu strains are emerging,” Chen said in an interview with this newspaper before the competition. “So there’s this need for new anti-flu medicine to hold back the pandemic wave while new vaccines are being developed.”
As the competition’s top winner, Chen won a $50,000 scholarship, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions and more.
Inspired by the 2009 flu pandemic, Chen has worked on his project, “The Taming of the Flu,” at UC San Diego and Scripps Research Institute labs since May 2012. He uses computer modeling and simulation combined with biological experimentation to speed up the discovery process of new drug candidates, he said. He is working on finding compounds that inhibit a viral protein called the “endonuclease.”
“I’ve always liked doing research as a way to contribute to society,” Chen said. “I was looking for a new science fair project and I remembered vividly how H1N1 went viral in 2009. San Diego had some of the first cases in the U.S. Since then, I’ve been keeping a tab on influenza news. The more I read about it, the more I saw it as an urgent issue.”
The Google Science Fair had thousands of entrants from 120 countries. Judges first selected 90 regional finalists, and then 15 finalists were selected, with five from each age group, ages 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18.
All of the finalists visited Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to present their projects to a panel of international scientists for a final round of judging.
“One thing I really like about research is that I get to feel like I’m really making a difference,” Chen said. “Even though I’m just in high school, I can say that. I’m doing work that will make the world a better place.”
Next year's competition opens for entries in January 2014.
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