Sixteen-year-old nanotechnologist wins Intel Fair and attends State of the Union speech

Sixteen-year-old nanotechnologist Amy Chyao won top prize at the 2010 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for her work on a nanoparticle to attack cancer cells and joined three other winners in Michelle Obama’s box during the State of the Union speech. From a New York Times article by Kenneth Chang “Nanotechnology Gets Star Turn at Speech

The presence of Amy Chyao, a 16-year-old from Richardson, Tex., in Michelle Obama’s box during the State of the Union speech puts a spotlight, as it were, on using nanotechnology and light to kill cancer.

Working in the laboratory of Kenneth J. Balkus, Jr., a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, Ms. Chyao, a high school junior, synthesized a nanoparticle that is essentially is a remotely triggered bomb that attacks cancer cells.

“That took the longest time,” Ms. Chao said in a telephone interview, referring to her efforts at synthesis. “I have so many failed batches on my bench.”

This type of cancer treatment, called photodynamic therapy, is already used for skin cancer, but Dr. Balkus wanted to find a way to treat tumors within the body. Infrared light can pass partway into the body, and shining it on Ms. Chyao’s nanoparticles sets off a chain of reactions, which release a reactive form of oxygen, which can then kill the cancer cells.

The nanoparticles were further customized with proteins, so they would dissolve in water, and with fluorescent gold nanoparticles, so they could be tracked within the body.

The research is promising, but far from ready, not even for clinical studies. Dr. Balkus said the next step would be to put the nanoparticles into cells and see if they work as designed. …

Ms. Chyao’s invitation was also covered by the Dallas Morning NewsRichardson teen will be first lady’s guest for State of Union address“:

Amy Chyao, fast becoming a Washington regular, has accepted her second invitation from the Obama administration to visit the White House.

Her father said a White House representative called the 16-year-old at Plano East Senior High School last week and asked her to attend the State of the Union address Tuesday night with the first lady.

She received the invitation as last year’s winner of the International Science and Engineering Fair. But she has already established a rapport with the president, who referenced her in a December speech as an example of America’s potential. He met the teen last fall when she presented her project at the White House. …

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