Irvington High Junior Semifinalist in International Competition

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by Anna Young – 

Irvington High School junior Jerry Wu won semifinalist honors last month in the prestigious international Breakthrough Junior Challenge competition.

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global initiative that aims to develop and demonstrate students’ knowledge of science and scientific principles, support STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, and engage the imagination and interest of the public in key concepts of fundamental science. Wu, 16, was among 29 semifinalists selected from more than 12,000 registrants representing 190 countries around the globe.

“It’s really exciting because I didn’t expect it,” Wu said. “When you put in the time and effort you can really do something great and your efforts will be rewarded.”

Wu, who interns with clinical scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College, and is a member of his school’s science research program, where students work with teachers on independent research projects, said he joined the competition after being influenced by his neighbor who participated a few years ago.

“I thought I could do it, as well,” Wu said.

Since the global initiative launched four years ago, students 13 to 18 years old are challenged to create original videos that illustrate a concept or theory in life sciences, physics or mathematics. The submissions are evaluated on the students’ ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in the most engaging, illuminating, and imaginative ways.

The semifinalists then compete in the “Popular Vote” portion of the challenge. The popular vote invites the public to vote for their favorite semifinalist submission by liking, sharing or issuing a positive reaction to the videos on the official Breakthrough Prize Facebook page.

The top 15 finalists will then be reviewed by a committee comprised of scientific experts. The winner of the competition, announced in November, will be awarded a $250,000 college scholarship and the science teacher who inspired the winning student will win $50,000. The winner’s school will also receive a $100,000 state-of-the-art science lab.

“There is a part of me that wants to win so I can give the money back to my school to build a new science lab,” Wu said. “I hope to do it for the school because someone could walk by the science lab and maybe they’ll be motivated to become a brilliant scientist.”

With his project, Wu creatively describes CAR T-Cell therapy, explaining how scientists genetically engineer t-cells to seek out and destroy cancer. Through his step-by-step analysis, Wu describes what happens to the body when diagnosed with the disease and how it heals during the CAR T-Cell therapy.

“My teacher said it was a really interesting idea and I thought it was interesting to combine all these genetics and different biologic topics about the immune system,” Wu said. “The video helped me share the ideas I have and present them in a way people can enjoy and learn.”

With a passion for science, Wu said he believes there needs to be both an inventive and creative foundation to find a cure for cancer. He said studying biomedical engineering will allow him to work to create a device that could help people around the world on a broader scale.

“You need to communicate your ideas effectively and get the word out with what you want in the future,” Wu said.

While Wu is undecided about where he wants to advance his studies, right now he’s focused on inspiring others to be more engaged in science. As the only student in Irvington to enter the global competition, he hopes his success will motivate his peers to participate next year.

“It’s really nice actually to get acknowledged for my work,” Wu said. “But I know there are plenty of other young scientists in my school, so I’m hoping this will inspire them in the future to do this challenge.”

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