Gunn High School graduate Emily Wang, class of 2014, was named Tuesday the first-place winner in an international biotechnology contest for high school students.
A panel of judges for the International BioGENEius Challenge, sponsored by nonprofit organization the Biotechnology Institute, cited Wang for her research in developing fluorescent proteins to improve the ability to visualize disease at the molecular level.
The award was announced Tuesday, June 24, at the BIO International Convention in San Diego, a major annual industry gathering.
Wang said she developed her project working after school and during breaks in a bioengineering lab at Stanford University.
"I'm really grateful to have had the opportunity to do research at the Stanford Department of Bioengineering," she said Tuesday. "Professor Michael Lin allowed me to do research in his lab and my mentor was Dr. Jun Chu, a postdoctoral student. Both of them were incredibly supportive with their guidance and I couldn't have done any of this without them."
Wang won an honorable mention in the same contest last year for her efforts to create more stable proteins. This year, she focused on screening proteins for their brightness as a means of illuminating biochemical events within cells.
"It was all lab work -- I didn't use a computer," except to analyze the data she gathered on brightness she said.
"I was interested in fluorescent protein research because of its potential in improving human health," she added. "Two of my relatives were diagnosed with Stage IV cancers and I wanted to create a tool that would allow us to observe cancer's activities. I discovered that these proteins could be a solution."
Attending a 'EurekaFest' conference at MIT with a Gunn team not long ago, Wang said she realized that "we're all capable of being inventors.
"We need to stop telling ourselves that scientists, engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs are these mad scientists who lock themselves in their basements…," Wang told a recent gathering at Gunn Engineering Night. "We're all capable of creating something, and it doesn't have to be something big.
"It can be finding a solution to something that bothers us in our everyday lives or it can be designing something to try to improve the lives of people in developing nations… Whatever it is, we can create something and we're all inventors," she said.
Wang's first-place award comes with a $7,500 cash prize. Second, third and fourth-place winners were Logan Collins of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado; Neil Davey of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland; and Nathan Han of Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts.
The yearly BioGENEius Challenge is underwritten by major biotechnology firms including Sanofi Pasteur, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, Genentech, Acorda Therapeutics, The Allergan Foundation, Alnylam, Pfizer and Sangamo BioSciences.
Wang has presented her research projects in a range of student science competitions and placed among the top 30 nationally in the 2013 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. She will attend Harvard University this fall with an interest in majoring in biology and computer science.