Student of the Month Address | Teen Ink

Student of the Month Address

June 18, 2012
By Physics981 PLATINUM, York, Pennsylvania
Physics981 PLATINUM, York, Pennsylvania
38 articles 1 photo 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
Failures help one grow as a person.

Good morning everyone,

First, I would like to thank you very much for bestowing this distinguished honor upon me as a Student of the Month of the Rotary Club. I am very excited to share with you my passions and interests this morning. Finally, someone has invited me to talk about science, instead of staring blankly in my face and thinking, “This guy is crazy.” So thank you very much for your bravery, and in return, I will do my best not to bore you with technicalities.

Ever since I was an eighth-grade student, I have developed a deep affinity for scientific exploration beyond classroom curricula. Science offers me an amazing outlet for academic and artistic creativity. It allows me, at least at my own level, not only to be careful passive observers of the universe, but active participants in the making of human history. When I think of science, I don’t think of a monotonous pursuit of experimentation after experimentation. I don’t think of a strict written set of formulas for research. But when I think of science, I imagine an art. Art requires its followers to be creative, to be unique, and most importantly of all, to be curious and adventurous. And that’s exactly what science requires. Scientific exploration demands its participants to not be afraid of challenging traditionally uncontested boundaries, to never accept defeat in the face of difficulties, and to have the touch of the poet. As problems of the world become more and more complex, scientists need to be increasingly creative in their approaches to solving these problems. There is no formula that tells these scientists, “Here is what you need to do to create magnetic monopoles,” or “This is how you solve global warning.” It would be nice if there is, but there is not. Therefore, science relies entirely on the ingenuity of our fellow exploring brothers and sisters. Think a moment about some of the tools we have today that are so creatively simple that we now use without even thinking about them. Pens, pencils, staplers, Velcro, zippers, hammers, pulleys, and wheels are just some of the mechanical tools that once required someone of our human linage daring enough to step forward, present his or her findings, and revolutionize human history forever. By the way, today is the birthday of the inventor of the zipper, Gideon Sundback. Going to a little bit more complicated notions, let’s think of Sir Isaac Newton for a second. When he stumbled upon the question of gravity, because he did not have the tools he needed to solve the problem at hand, he invented something. He invented what is now known as differential calculus. All of what we know of Newton’s accomplishments probably would have been possible if Newton was not adventurous enough to explore unchartered territory of mathematics, and not daring enough to challenge centuries-old notions of the relations of the Earth and the universe. But what impressed me most about Newton is that he did all this without ever using a calculator. And yet it is now an absurd notion to make a ninth-grader take a math test without his or her TI. Seriously though, calculus used to only be taught at the post-secondary level. I now know of students have taken calculus very early on in their high school careers. I even know personally as a student who took calculus as eighth-grader. This gives me so much hope. We as a species have evolved so much intellectually. Perhaps, 20 years from now, relativity and quantum mechanics will be taught at the middle school level. That would truly be a major leap forward.

I love science very much because of its breathtaking theoretical beauty and its monumentally significant applications to reality. For instance, quantum mechanics is arguably one of the craziest fields in physics because it makes no common sense at all. Quantum mechanics predicts that everything and anything can happen probabilistically. Quantum mechanics predicts that people can walk through walls, that atoms can communicate instantaneously, that the wave function of a system is undetermined until observed, or that my speech right now is actually interesting. And yet, there is probably no other theory besides quantum mechanics that has been excruciating tested over nearly a century. And every single test has confirmed the validity of quantum mechanics. How amazing! Something that makes absolutely no common sense is right because scientists have followed mathematical logic and obtained mathematically-valid results. The predictions of quantum mechanics have given us the tools to revolutionize physics and science in general. Much of what know today could not have been possible without quantum mechanics: lasers, TVs, computers, Internet, particle accelerators, and more. To me, that is just beautiful! Although you may not see it, I am actually exploding inside out of excitement just talking about quantum mechanics.

In contrast to theories, I also like science because of its applications to society. I see so many potentials in scientific endeavors to solve global challenges that threaten the lives of many. Continued enhancements to our current techniques using scientific creativity and originality can introduce promising results that improve the human conditions. My excitement for scientific discoveries is interwoven into my compassion as a human being. To elaborate on one example, I am confident that medical treatments and diagnosis will undergo revolutionary modifications in the next 10 years. The impact of these alterations in methods and understanding will, with certainty, reduce the mortality of sufferers and enhance the efficacy of treatments and diagnosis. For instance, microfluidics has recently gained tremendous medical interest because it offers promising alternatives to point-of-care diagnostics with affordability, specificity, and sensitivity; it uses a variety of operational concepts such as magnetic fluctuations, optical absorption and resonance, and chemical reactivity. Furthermore, research in treatments of cancer has demonstrated potential alternatives using oscillating ferromagnetic hyperthermia nano-particles and drug delivery through optical tweezers for direct treatments of tumors without devastation of healthy cells. These are only a few examples of novel techniques that far exceed the capabilities of current methods. Through the test of time, medical treatments and diagnosis will prove to have the most profound impact on the human conditions! This revolution will to lead a completely new approach for confrontation of the global health atrocity. The promise of this revolution inspires me to be a part of it. This year, I actually worked on a research project that looked at an alternative method to malaria diagnosis. The hope of the project is to introduce a more effective and affordable method of malaria diagnosis. Currently, I am very interested in something called photothermal therapy for cancer research. This technique uses electromagnetic radiation to excite injected nanoparticles to produce heat that kills tumor cells. Additionally, I am also very interested in international development because I acknowledge my responsibility as a human being to assist others who perhaps possess fewer opportunities to advance than I do. There are so many simple technologies in the US that would undoubtedly enhance the lives of others in third-world countries. Things that are not even greatly appreciated in the US like greenhouses and hand sanitizers would change the lives of others who do not have them in very significant ways. I am so excited for my college career when I will be able to become involved in international development projects.

As you can probably tell by now, I like science. Therefore, for the past 5 years, I have been actively involved in independent science research projects. Through this experience, I have learned so much more than just science. Independent science research allowed me to develop deeply as a person. Because I was completing my projects more on less on my own, it was necessary for me to be determined and always be aware of the final destinations ahead. It taught me to be diligent and creative. Most important of all, I thank the process very much for allowing me to fail. I cannot even tell you how many times I became exceedingly disappointed and exhausted. Many many times, I felt like I was about ready to quit. So many times, I thought to myself, “I can’t handle this anymore.” But what truly made a difference was that I did not quit. After failure and failure and failure in experimentation, I learned that it is very easy to become discouraged in scientific research, not just for me, but even for professional scientists, but it is a major mistake if one allows those initial failures to define oneself. I never let those failures keep me from continuing my experimentation, and I will not allow those failures to define who I am. And after 50 failures or so, I faintly see a glimpse of success. And I think that this experience truly strengthened me as a scholar and a person. I cannot imagine growing so much from any single experience from my high school career than from independent science research.

Through my high school career, I have also attempted to expose my friends to the magic of science and mathematics through my founding of the Science Olympiad team and the math team. During the period of preparation, I had to manage some administrative matters with the help of the science department chairperson. Although involvement in the Science Olympiad was an additional commitment to my schedule, I was satisfied to hear my peers discussing science outside of the classroom. I was satisfied to see collaboration leading to creative ideas. Truthfully, I was also satisfied to see some failures in experimentation; my teammates were finally experiencing what real scientists see every day. Before the competition, I told my teammates that the worst possible outcome is that they walk out having learned something, so forget about victories and defeats. With little preparation last year, the Science Olympiad team brought home about 10 medals, and only missed making it to states by a single point this year. I am very proud of both creations, and truly hope that they will continue after my graduation to exposure prospective students to the exciting world of science and mathematics.

I also enjoy volunteering very much during my free time. For the past 4 years, I have been a volunteer at a Buddhist Association, assisting with preparing for celebrations, facilitating rituals such as playing the drum or chanting, and cleaning up afterwards. I have also been a tutor in mathematics and science, as well as acting as a teaching assistant for a science classroom. Additionally, this past fall, I organized a Water Challenge contest, raising money for well construction in third-world countries. In the past, I was also a math worksheet writer to help clarify confusing math concepts for inner-city students by providing additional practice problems. In the interest of time, I will not go into other extracurricular activities and community service projects of mine as I believe the Rotary Club is in possession of my resume.

I just came back from an educational trip to the Big Island of Hawai’i two weeks ago. It goes without saying, but Hawai’i is a beautiful tropical paradise. Although our group had so much fun through hiking a dormant volcanic crater, kayaking in the beautiful blue ocean, as opposed to the grey ones we have here in the East coast, and snorkeling with marine organisms, we learned a great deal on our little journey also. Yes, we actually were focused enough to learn something, although not for long. What most impressed me about my experience was the spirit of the Hawaiian people. They work for conservation of their resources because they believe in the integrity of the Earth and the basis of their existence. They work with diligence and with spirit. They are passionate about what they are doing and do it with affection, not hatred. When I was participating in a clean-up of a tropical dry forest, I was assigned to pulling up invasive species of the area to allow native ones to flourish. Pulling weeds was not at all a special activity. What struck me about this experience that made it special was not the physical involvement, but the spiritual mentality behind it. The leader of this conservation effort told us, as we were pulling up the invasive species, that we were supposed to do it with care. Instead of killing the weeds with the thought, “You evil weeds have invaded our territory and therefore, deserve to die,” it was more of the thought, “Sorry about pulling you up. You are a beautiful creature, but perhaps you have grown at the wrong place, at the wrong time.” I learned so much about this little experience because it reinforced my belief that one should pursue his or her dreams with passion and energy. The Hawaiian people have undoubtedly exhibited that trait, and I hope to be like them as a scientist, working with spirit and enthusiasm.

I am very excited that there leading post-secondary institutions have accepted me to their Classes of 2016. I actually just came back from a week-long college visit trip to these three institutions 2 days ago. When I was at any of these institutions, I felt very privileged to be among the best thinkers and doers in the world. As you may have already predicted, I plan to obtain a Ph.D. in physics and acquire a professional life as a researcher and a professor. At one of these institutions, teaching assistants for physics courses are actually professors, among whom exist three Nobel Laureates. How amazing is that!!! I am so excited to embark upon research projects in college that are at the edge of the next generation of technologies. I am excited to follow in the footsteps of pioneering scientists and entrepreneurs of their respective disciplines. Most important of all, I am excited of the prospect of being able to benefit others through my work. As a researcher, I am not only consuming knowledge, but I am also creating it.

Thank you very much, or as the Hawaiians would say, Mahalo!

The author's comments:
This speech was delivered on April 24th, 2012.

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