Top of the Class

#12 From Idea to Innovation with America's Top Young Scientist for 2019

November 25, 2020 Crimson Education Season 1 Episode 12
Top of the Class
#12 From Idea to Innovation with America's Top Young Scientist for 2019
Show Notes Transcript

In 2019, a 14-year-old Kara Fan won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her nano-silver liquid bandage. The win gave Kara some great prize money and the title of America's Top Young Scientist.

Now 15, Kara reflects on how the idea came about, how she created nano-silver in her family kitchen and her growing passion for bringing awareness to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Since then, Kara has adapted her project to assist with COVID-19 prevention and was a guest judge for the 2020 competition.

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  • Click here to visit Kara's website or connect with her on Twitter

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Podcast Host  00:17

Hello, and welcome to the top of the class podcast. I'm your host, Alex Cork. And in this episode, I chat with 15 year old, Kara Fan. In 2019, Kara was named America's Top Young Scientist for winning the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. We chat all about her invention, her presentation, and what she's focusing on now. Let's chat with caravan. Hello, Kara, welcome to the top of the class podcast. It's fantastic to have you on. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself maybe a little bit about your project that you worked on?

Kara Fan  00:46

My name is Kara Fan. I'm a high schooler, I'm a sophomore at Westview. And the project I did for the 3M Young Scientist Challenge was the nano silver liquid bandage. And this project is to reduce the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. And after the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, I decided to raise awareness for antibiotic resistance. Because I found out that a lot of people don't know about this problem. So I decided to make an island or Animal Crossing dedicated to teach people about antibiotic resistance.

Podcast Host  01:19

Right. So it's become a bit of a thing for you. Is that like your main interest now is antibiotic resistance and how technology can help solve antibiotic resistance?

Kara Fan  01:29

Yeah, like I just want people to be more kind of aware about this problem. Because by 2050, like 10 million people will die from antibiotic resistance. And I could tell like, after I went through, I did like a bunch of interviews. And actually a lot of people didn't know about this problem.

Podcast Host  01:46

Yeah, I mean, it's becoming even more of a problem, obviously now will be with you know, COVID-19. Realizing, yeah, I have to come up with a whole new vaccine, and it didn't respond to initial antibiotics and those kinds of things. So definitely, it's a big problem. But how does a young caravan probably at the age of 13, or 14, decide to work on a project that focuses on antibiotic resistance.

Kara Fan  02:08

So actually, a long time ago, my grandma, she got UTI, and it's urinary tract infection. And she was sent to the emergency room because of that. So after that, I kind of got interested in like the medicine that had saved her life with just antibiotics. And after that, you know, I read a lot of Scientific American magazines for fun because my dad would always like, subscribe to them, and they would come to us. And I saw on one of the articles, it said that superbugs is going to be a huge problem. And I was really scared because I didn't know that such a thing existed.

Podcast Host  02:45

Yeah, exactly. superbug and when you read about it for the first time, you're like, how is not everybody talking about this? This is crazy. Right? Okay, so you've got that interest in antibiotic resistance and bugs? Keep going forward through the timeline here.

Kara Fan  03:00

Yeah. So after I learned about that, I kept on researching more. And I just found this one random article and said that silver can kill bacteria. And I thought that was really cool. And I researched more, and found out that copper and other metals can kill bacteria. Like the ancient Aztecs and the ancient Chinese. They used copper to, like drink out of and to kind of help with their wounds. Yes, yeah. So after that, I decided to do a project where I can use silver to heal bacteria instead of antibiotics.

Podcast Host  03:32

And did you know anything about the 3M Science Competition when you started it?

Kara Fan  03:37

No, I actually submitted this to my local science fair, because I just wanted to kind of share my idea at the science fair and see what other people were doing as well. And then I just came across it 3M Young Scientist Challenge like on social media,

Podcast Host  03:50

okay, well explain to our listeners, what the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is exactly.

Kara Fan  03:55

The 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a science challenge for middle school students, where they submit a project idea, a science project idea that can significantly change the world. And after that top 10 finalists are chosen to go to Minnesota to compete for the final prize of being a top young scientist.

Podcast Host  04:15

So you submitted the project for the very first time in a science fair, your local one. Did you win that? Or how'd you go in that science fair?

Kara Fan  04:24

Well, for that one, I got first place in my microbiology division.

Podcast Host  04:28

Okay. Cool. And what have you learned about entering into science fairs and science competitions as a result of this process? Because you came into it as I understand like a complete newbie at the very first time, right? So can you take us through I guess, how you learned how to turn your project into a presentation.

Kara Fan  04:48

First of all, for the science fair, they give us like, kind of like an outline like if your hypothesis, and I just follow that, and from my actual presentation, well, before I did the science fair, I did firstly, and for that we had to do a lot of presentations. And I also joined debate. So I guess that kind of helped me, but for the science fair, so when we go there, it's kind of like a one on one presentation. Mm hmm. So I was more prepared to do that. And like talk in front of like, hundred people.

Podcast Host  05:16

Well, I saw a video on YouTube have your presentation, and it was or it look like anyway, that you were presenting in front of about 100. People like the finals of 3M, right? 

Kara Fan  05:26

Yeah, that was 3M Young Scientist challenge.

Podcast Host  05:28

And how intimidating was that or were ny that time, were you like, pretty solid on how you would pitch it?

Kara Fan  05:34

Yeah. So at that time, well, during the Young Scientists Challenge, I had to practice my project, like every single day. And I actually practice with my mentor as well. And she helped me kind of like, tweak it a little bit. And that was really intimidating, though.

Podcast Host  05:49

Yeah. speaking in front of 100 people, right. And there were not just 100 other students, a lot of them are scientists, and yeah, judges and everybody who's like, there's a lot of money on the line. There's $25,000 on the line. So it was a lot of pretty high stakes. Did you do any kind of like breathing techniques to try and calm yourself down? Oh, yeah. On stage. Yeah.

Kara Fan  06:09

Yeah. So one of the leaders for 3M Young Scientist Challenge, she took us so right before each presentation, she took us around the 3M lobby, and we walked for like five minutes before we presented and we just talked about life. It really helped me calm down, because without that, I would have been really nervous.

Podcast Host  06:29

Well, I would have been nervous anyway. But yeah, it is good to have that no chance to calm down a little bit, which I think is great. Talk to me about the actual presentation. Do you remember it at all? Because I know that there's some students who go on stage, and it's all a blur, right? They can't even remember what they said or what happened up on stage. But what do you remember from that time that you had?

Kara Fan  06:50

So the presentation? Well, it was only five minutes, but there were like, I think, five minutes to answer questions. And all I remember was, well, there was a lot of people staring at me. But I just tried to look like straight and I just presented my project. And it was just really bright.

Podcast Host  07:07

It was really bright. You got a lot of lights on you and stuff. Yeah. Yeah. So it's pretty intense. And I saw the you know, the footage of when you were announced the winner, and you got like the big novelty chair. Yeah. And talk us through that moment. What was it like to have your name called out as the winner of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and be named as America's top young scientists, which is an amazing title to go along with? I mean, almost more than the prize money is having that title associated with your name, right. That's crazy.

Kara Fan  07:37

Yeah. So what else announced I was really surprised, first of all, because I didn't know if I would even like place third or second. I was kind of aiming for second. But like before they announced my title. Like there is like another person. Her name's I think, Caroline, and her name is kind of similar to mine. So I thought I got second place. But when I was announced first I was like, really surprised. And like, it was really good.

Podcast Host  08:02

Yeah. And what was the reaction of your parents and your family?

Kara Fan  08:06

Only my dad was there. And he was just like, shocked.

Podcast Host  08:11

Everybody was a little bit shocked, I'm sure. Yeah, right. Okay. Well, take us back, I guess in time a little bit to your early stages of your research, because on the top of the class podcast, what we try and do is go beyond the headline achievement, and actually try and help other students who might be interested in research as well to understand how you did your research, because I'm hearing things like nano silver and microbial copper and electronic microscopes and it sounds pretty crazy for a 14 year old to be getting into those kinds of fields. You saw the articles on a silver and copper can help kill microbes and be antibacterial. What then happened? You said you got a mentor, when did she come into the picture?

Kara Fan  08:53

Well, I submitted my nanosilver liquid bandage project before I went to 3M Young Scientists Challenge where a mentor helps me so before when I searched up how silver can kill bacteria. I was kind of confused on how to make like a liquid bandage out of it because you just like strapped silver to your arm. Yes. bacteria.

Podcast Host  09:12

So you see silver can kill bacteria and then you're like, Oh, this would be cool. If it was in a bandage format. Yeah, right, a liquid bandage for a liquid bandage format. And what did you know about liquid bandages? Did you think that there was something out there already that could be doing this kind of thing? Did you like search online? liquid silver band? It seems like see if there was any results that popped up?

Kara Fan  09:33

Yeah, I would actually before this whole like project started. I always use liquid bandages. They're just convenient, and they won't really hurt when you're trying to like peel it off. Right? So that's why I kind of wanted to do a project similar to that. But I didn't really know how to apply like silver until like a liquid bandage right until I found I just searched up like really small pieces of silver like small particles of silver. And I found out about nano silver, and actually it's really easy to make I found a lot of different people who made nano silver with like leaves and kale and just really easy to make. Yeah, I can explain.

Podcast Host  10:08

Yeah, please do I'm very interested as to how you make nano silver from leaves and kale.

Kara Fan  10:14

Yeah. So for it to make nano silver, you get silver nitrate, and you can buy silver nitrate off of Amazon. And you can mix it with kale solution. So basically I just boiled kale leaves in water, and that acts as a reducing agent and it reduces the silver particles into nano silver.

Podcast Host  10:34

Okay, and did you learn about that on YouTube or Hulu? Okay, so YouTube is a feature for a whole lot of your generation Google and YouTube as a teacher for everybody. So did you do that at home? Or did you do that at school?

Kara Fan  10:47

I do at home.

Podcast Host  10:48

Okay, so you're at home creating nanosilver pretty normal thing for a 14 year old to do... Were your parents like 'Hey, what are you doing with that kale? Is that dinner?' And were you like, no no, I'm just making some nanosilver.

Kara Fan  10:59

Yeah, cuz my parents will I asked my dad to buy off of Amazon. So you kind of knew, but they're both like computer scientists. So they don't really know anything about this kind of stuff. So they're, like skeptical, that would actually work. But for now silver. So when you first mix it, it's like grain. But then if it turns into like a brown color, then you know that it probably worked. So I was really surprised it actually worked.

Podcast Host  11:22

Okay, fantastic. So you've got the nano silver, you've got I guess, in your home liquid bandage solution? Did you just try and like mix the two or what did you do from there?

Kara Fan  11:31

Yeah, so for my actual project, I didn't really want to mix like a 3am liquid bandage. Because I didn't know if like they would allow it. I mean, they probably would. But what I did was I took a Palmer, which is PvP, and it's a waterside biopolymer. And I mixed it with the nano silver, so that when you spray it onto your hand, it will create like a thin film that can protect the area. Okay, this is pretty cool.

Podcast Host  11:54

Like, are you bouncing any of these ideas of time off your friends or off like your science teacher who you chatting to when you're going through this process? Because it sounds like a pretty daunting thing to be doing on your own.

Kara Fan  12:04

Yeah, so I just I talked about with my dad. And afterwards B contacted a professor at UCSD. And he helped us use electron microscope. But other than that, I didn't really talk to anyone about it.

Podcast Host  12:18

Okay, I'm interested in the UCSD part. So we don't know there's the University of California, San Diego. Yeah, that's like your closest one isn't?

Kara Fan  12:26

Yeah. Okay.

Podcast Host  12:27

And did you know that that professor was interested in this particular field? Or were they just like a microbiology professor?

Kara Fan  12:34

Oh, Tresor. He was just, he just handles the electron microscope. So he didn't really like help me with my project, like directly. He just helped me use electron microscope and look at the nano silver and kind of explained a little bit about that.

Podcast Host  12:48

I can hear our listeners being like, ask her how she got to use the electron microscope and yesterday, like, wouldn't they say, Oh, sorry. That's like University property? Do you have to be like a student here to be using that? How did you get around that like, was it your dad who helped you out or what happened?

Kara Fan  13:03

I went to the UCSD website, and they had a contacts list, but the people who handle electron microscope, and I contacted everyone, and he responded, and he said that he could actually help me use electron microscope, which is pretty cool. And actually, this year, I asked if I could use another microscope, the scanning electron microscope, but for that one, you have to pay so kind of depends, right? But

Podcast Host  13:24

you know, yeah, I needed an electron microscope, you're able to see the nano silver particles. Yeah, kind of make this project work. Right. So what was it like seeing the nano silver particles in the electron microscope for the first time

Kara Fan  13:36

seeing the nano silver particles for the first time, it was really fascinating, because like nano silver can come with like a lot of shapes and sizes. And it really signed to see my nano silver, like really small. I mean, like, it could be like a few hundred nanometers or like 10 nanometers. But actually, the smaller the size, the easier or better can kill bacteria. So it was really exciting to see, like 10 nanometers.

Podcast Host  13:58

Did you have a moment where you thought, wow, this is science in action? This is an idea that Yeah, coming to life here. How was that feeling of creating science?

Kara Fan  14:09

That was really cool. Because I didn't know that it would actually work because i for i made this lotion. Yes, it did turn brown. But it was just really cool to see like such simple ingredients, I guess turned into something. So cool.

Podcast Host  14:23

Talk us through the research and testing side of things. So you've got the silver particles, you've got kind of solution that you can use as the bandage side of things. How do you go about testing that because you were dealing with like e coli and all these other like pretty nasty bacteria? That must have been a little bit crazy to have Yeah, all this dangerous bacteria around you. So talk me through that process and what that was like?

Kara Fan  14:46

So I actually bought the bacteria from a website called Carolina calm and they sell a bunch of medical things like bacteria and his websites

Podcast Host  14:55

for everything. Yeah, go websites for buying bacteria. I'd never thought I'd come around. Cross one like that, but I'm glad you did, because it helped you make the bandage. Yeah. So you found this website that sells bacteria and you buy bacteria from them?

Kara Fan  15:07

Yeah. Okay, well actually, I first bought one kind of bacteria. First, it was ecola. And I bought a bunch of petri dishes from them too, because bacteria grow and PJ fishes and I used a Kirby Bauer method. So basically, it's a method where I drop a few pieces of my nano silver liquid bandage onto like, a small disc, and then I put it on the petri plate that already has bacteria on it. And then I wait for a few days. And then I just check to see if the bacteria grew or not. And there's like a diameter kind of around the circle. And it just shows how much bacteria is killed.

Podcast Host  15:42

And what were the results of those initial tests, you have to adjust what you were doing at all? Or was it just like, Wow, it works. And I've got my project, or what kind of iterations did you have to have after?

Kara Fan  15:53

Yeah, so I had to adjust it. Because sometimes if you have such a huge concentration or nanosolar might be a bit toxic. So I tested it with different concentrations. So I tested it with 50 100 200, and so on. And I found that the minimum inhibitory concentration, which is like the lowest concentration kill bacteria, was 50. And the higher the concentration, the more can kill bacteria. And then I decided to test with other types of bacteria as well.

Podcast Host  16:21

This is pretty cool, right? Like you're writing science, you've got your nano silver, you've got your solution, you're killing off bacteria, one after the other. What was next what was next on the chopping block in terms of bacteria.

Kara Fan  16:31

So there's actually two different kinds of bacteria this gram positive and Gram negative bacteria, so Gram negative bacteria, like resist more antibiotics, and it's more dangerous and gram positive. So that's why I decided to test on both types of bacteria to make sure that my nanosilver can kill both types of bacteria.

Podcast Host  16:48

And how did you learn all this? Is it just through YouTube still on Google? or How are you learning all of these terminology? And where are you getting all your resources from?

Kara Fan  16:58

So when I first started science fair, I didn't use all these terminologies cuz I didn't understand it. But after I did science fair, I looked at a bunch of projects from the high schoolers and like, the people who are like, already really good at science fair, right. And I found out about that from them.

Podcast Host  17:15

Okay. Okay. So this is when it starts coming into Yeah, you know, when we talk about, like, what goes into a winning 3M Young Scientist Challenge project, it's that kind of scientific terminology and the actual project itself, and the research and the data and everything else. Yeah. So can you talk us through, I guess, how you managed to start putting everything together leading up to the 3M Young Scientist Challenge? So you've got your project, it's testing? Well, it's one the local science fair, yeah. But you're like, Okay, I'm going to need to up my game if I'm going to really make a dent in the competition here at 3M. So yeah, you would have been like, pretty full on learning a lot of new things and trying to make sure that it was ready for that kind of level of competition.

Kara Fan  17:57

Yeah, so for 3M just this to post a video, and the video of your project. And if they think your project is like really interesting and help the world, then you get into the top 10. And after that, have a mentor so that my mentor, she helped me a lot through this process. So we actually instead of using Petri plates to grow bacteria, we use Petri films because they're more environmentally friendly. And I decided to use like, more environmentally friendly methods to synthesize my nano silver

Podcast Host  18:27

mentor was name was Sarah, right? Yeah. Okay. When what's Sarah's role? Is she a scientist as well as she like a microbiologist? Or how much does she know about what you're working on?

Kara Fan  18:36

So Sarah, she's a scientist at 3M. And she's an a microbiologist, she works in the material science. But she helped me throughout the science process. And she gave me access to microbiologists and actually the 3M liquid bandage expert.

Podcast Host  18:53

oh, the actual experts to the person who was developing the three. bandage, you got to chat to them?

Kara Fan  18:59


Podcast Host  19:00

What was that like?

Kara Fan  19:01

Well, that was pretty cool. Because they're just talking about how like, you can use different solvents to create the liquid bandage to help it evaporate faster, or you can create like a thicker film. And that was really cool. Talk to someone who actually, like knew about liquid bandages.

Podcast Host  19:16

Yeah, I bet it was, how much was it all at the end of the day, in terms of cost was pretty expensive project to undertake?

Kara Fan  19:23

It was like, a few hundred dollars. Okay. Yeah. So to buy a bacteria, the bacteria is not too bad, but I had to test with a lot of Petri plates, and testing with like hundreds of petri plates kind of adds up a lot. And for electron microscope, because I was lucky enough to have someone like let me use it for free. That was good. And the silver nitrate, it's like not that expensive because you only need like a really small amount of silver nitrate to make a lot of nano silver. So it wasn't that bad, but it was still kind of expensive. Okay,

Podcast Host  19:55

now you're at the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. You've got your project. It's looking all lovely and beautiful. Were you happy with it when you presented it? Like, were you happy with the detail and the data and the research? Did you feel like your project was 100%? Good to go? 3M competition science winner worthy?

Kara Fan  20:13

Well, before I joined the actual top 10 challenge of Minnesota, I thought it was worthy. But then when I went there, and then I saw the other site, finalists, presentations, they were all super complicated. Like, I didn't understand the thing. So after that, I was like, a little bit discouraged. But

Podcast Host  20:31

I'm sure that we're looking at your project thinking, well, I've got no idea about ram bacteria. I don't even know if I'm saying that. Right. But you are creating some pretty cool stuff that I'm sure they will probably struggling to understand as well. So it's really, each their own, everyone's going to have their strengths. So how is the project evolved since winning?

Kara Fan  20:49

Yeah, so I continued on. And this is kind of like, I kind of started like kind of a new project. But it's still like using nano silver and kind of like the liquid bandage, except I created another spray. It's really similar. And I could spray it on to like different surfaces that can kill bacteria. And so I decided to use this nano silver spray and spray on a face mask because it was during the covid 19 pandemic. And I thought it would be cool. Yeah, it could like help kill pathogens in the air through the facemask.

Podcast Host  21:20

And how's that coming along?

Kara Fan  21:21

Oh, that's going pretty well.

Podcast Host  21:23

Right. Are

Kara Fan  21:23

science fair? Yeah. I mean, I got first place for the science fair,

Podcast Host  21:27

pretty good. First place? Are you still going into science fairs thinking that they're a challenge for you?

Kara Fan  21:32

I think science fair is still a really big challenge to win. Because as you get into, like the older categories, everyone's projects are much more complicated and much more in depth. So it's like harder to win. But still going pretty well, though.

Podcast Host  21:45

Has the project become commercially viable at all? Are you going to put it into production is like 3M interested in creating a nano silver liquid bandages? Well,

Kara Fan  21:55

yeah, so I was first thinking of patent idea. But my dad said that he didn't want me to do that for some reason, because like, it would take a lot of paperwork and stuff like that. So right now I'm looking for like investors to make it an actual product.

Podcast Host  22:09

How is it pitching to investors as a 14 year old?

Kara Fan  22:12

It's pretty hard right now. I don't know. Like, a lot of people are actually like, reliable. And if they're, if they're not gonna, like take all my money and like, go away, right? Yeah,

Podcast Host  22:22

yeah, it's difficult to figure out why. And how was this whole process change you and how you view yourself as a scientist?

Kara Fan  22:31

Well, actually, before this whole process, I did science, but I didn't really do a lot of it. Like, I'd started like, the Science Olympiad. But I wasn't really that good at it. Because for Science Olympiad, kind of like a lot of memorization is kind of repetitive for me. Yeah. And I just wasn't good at it. So I kind of stopped that. And it really changed my view on like science overall, because there's so many possibilities, you just find a problem and solve it. I think that's pretty cool.

Podcast Host  22:59

Now, I love that attitude. I think that's so cool. You find a problem, then you solve it. I know that there's a lot of students who are out there thinking, Well, I'm only 14 or 15, or whatever age they might be? Why is it up to me to solve it? Or how do I know that someone already isn't trying to solve it, or someone who already hasn't already solved it? You know, like, you might be reading the Scientific American, but it might be a day or two away from someone being like, hey, guess what, I've invented a nano silver liquid bandage or something like that. Right? So how did you I guess, have that conviction to be like, there's a problem, I can solve it not like there's a problem, oh, someone else will solve it?

Kara Fan  23:38

Well, you don't want to wait for like someone else to solve it. Because right now, a lot of people are already trying to solve this problem. Like, there's so many problems out there. And there's so many different ways to solve it. And like, we're never gonna entirely solve the antibiotic resistance problem, just with one project, right? It's like a bunch of projects and bunch of ideas like combined together to solve it. So you can think of it as like your idea or your project is helping other people solve it as well.

Podcast Host  24:07

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That's a very good way of thinking about it. But when you created your idea, did you ever think I'm sure someone else has thought of this already?

Kara Fan  24:15

Yeah, I thought he would thought that already. Because like, nano silver, it's getting more popular right now. Now technology, getting really popular. But even though I thought people would already solve this problem, like, I thought that my project is really mass producible. And it's really kind of inexpensive. Yeah, like if we add all the ingredients together, it's pretty inexpensive. And it's really portable. And I thought, like, I haven't really heard of that before. So why not?

Podcast Host  24:44

Yeah, you like if it's not already out there. Surely someone has not thought of it. Right? Because it seems like something that should be at their marketplace. So hopefully those investors do come and treat you well, and you can get something off the ground soon because it does sound like a project that could be commercially viable. Sir This year, you were a guest judge in the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Can you talk us through what that experience was like? And I guess how it was different to being a competitor?

Kara Fan  25:10

Yeah, that was really cool. Because before being a judge, I got to talk with the top 10. finalists, and well, they're all amazing. And then, for the judging process, I had to review all of their projects, one by one before actually judged and well, their projects were really good. They're really complicated. And it was actually really easy to find questions to ask them, because there's just so many components to each project. And I just wanted to learn more about it. And they all answered it really well.

Podcast Host  25:39

So what separates I guess, your your winners from you're not winners of a science fair.

Kara Fan  25:46

But I think one of the most important things is that if your project is actually doable, like it's not so complicated, that it can never be done, right. Like, for example, like it should be, like a little bit simpler for people to understand. Because if you have like the super complicated project, how important is the title? Like how to, you know, to capture people's attention up front?

Podcast Host  26:08

How important is it to have like, nanosilver liquid bandage,

Kara Fan  26:11

bandage? Yeah,

Podcast Host  26:12

right. Like, I know, I don't know anything about nano silver, I've never used a liquid bandage myself, maybe I should look into that. Right. But straightaway, I understand, I guess what that project is about. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I guess that side of winning a science competition in terms of, you know, going right from the start in creating a title that is easy to understand, and people like, Oh, I can already find my way. Or I can learn more about this project just by the title.

Kara Fan  26:42

I think it's a bit different for different science competitions. Because for the 3am, young scientist challenge, I think they're looking for a project that you know, everyone can understand. Because if you're showcasing it to the world, you want everyone to understand it. So should be like, kind of short and sweet, and easy to understand. But for other science projects, like the science fair, if they're looking for more PhD level projects, you can make it more complicated. And you can talk about like their protein, or what kind of cancer you're trying to solve.

Podcast Host  27:13

Right? So it's almost like it's going by the complexity or the level of the competition that you're entering in. So basically, like your local competitions, maybe you should try and keep the terminology and the science of it fairly simple and accessible for people, whether it be other students or teachers or judges looking at the project. But the higher you go, the more complex your project needs to become. And they're kind of more it needs to appeal to, as you said, like that PhD level of science. Are there any other tips you would give for students entering into science fairs? Or the three m young scientist challenge?

Kara Fan  27:47

Well, first of all, like science, obviously, it's really hard. And I know a lot of times, like if it doesn't work, like for example, for me, I actually did nano copper, I started with nano copper instead of nano silver. And for some reason, like nano copper I made it didn't work. So if your science project at first, if it fails, just don't stop, just continue. Because eventually it will work. She's got it try many different times.

Podcast Host  28:13

You just got to keep on keepin on. Like if you know that, theoretically, it should work, then maybe it's just the testing side of things that needs to be fine tuned.

Kara Fan  28:20

And don't be afraid to ask other people for help as well. Because referee and mentor, she really helped me and I asked a lot of microbiologist for help, like Just don't be afraid to reach out to people because they would definitely like want help you.

Podcast Host  28:33

Why is that? Why would they want to help you? Is there something that is at your advantage when you're 14 years old? And asking for help?

Kara Fan  28:41

Yeah, because I know a lot of professors are kind of, they're just really surprised to see like a kid interested in a science project. Because usually, like, we're interested in playing games, yeah. But yeah, they're like really surprised to see us and they really want to motivate us to continue to do science. So that's probably why.

Podcast Host  28:59

Right, and now you're becoming a bit of an advocate. So it's kind of like taking your science project. And using that title as America's Top Young Scientist. Yeah, to help educate people talk us through your project, an Animal Crossing and how you actually created an island on that.


So it was during quarantine. And I found out that a lot of companies such as like clothing companies, and Gettysburg Museum, they actually used or even the Biden, Joe Biden, they used for Animal Crossing, to raise awareness or to sell their products kind of like for the Gettysburg Museum, they use Animal Crossing to showcase different pieces of art. And so I thought that was a really cool idea. And I kind of wanted to use Animal Crossing to raise awareness for antibiotic resistance, because it's a really fun and cute way to learn about something new that can change your life. And also Animal Crossing was super popular as well.

Podcast Host  29:54

Yeah. So what does that even look like? Do you have to kind of code in an island like how do you even create an island on empty just submitted to someone, what do you do?

Kara Fan  30:03

Oh, no. So I bought the Nintendo Switch. And I bought the Animal Crossing game. And I just created my own islands like, You're like a character and you just build your own island however you want just like I write, it's

Podcast Host  30:17

like a game. I've never played animal.

Kara Fan  30:19

Oh, yeah, sorry. The only difference is that from my island, I created a whole bunch of different posters and custom designs that talk about antibiotic resistance.

Podcast Host  30:30

Wow. Okay, so people are coming through to your island and been like, see, for a good time. I'm here to, you know, play some games. And they're like, yeah, antibiotic resistance and learning at the same time. Yeah, that's cool. Talk to us about what the future holds for you. You're now still the America's young top scientists, you've got that title. They can't take that away from you. You're still working on your project, you've adapted it to, you know, try and fit COVID-19 as well. What's the next six to I guess? 12 months look like for you?

Kara Fan  30:57

Well, right now during quarantine, a lot of different labs are not available when it is the most. So it's kind of hard for that. But right now, I'm working on another science project for next year. And I'm hoping that I could try to get into ISEF, or Intel science fair. So I could present my project there. 

Podcast Host  31:15

But yeah, I was working in check out I think Episode Five. That was our interview with the 2019 winner of ISEF, Krithik.

Kara Fan  31:23


Podcast Host  31:23


Kara Fan  31:24

Oh, wow. Okay.

Podcast Host  31:25

Yeah, yeah, yeah, do

Kara Fan  31:27

that. Yeah. One

Podcast Host  31:28

question I've got from students in the past is, how do you balance this all with your school? So you're a sophomore? Now, it sounds like this whole science thing is like a full time job. It sounds like it's a lot of work. You're creating Animal Crossing, you're advocating for science, you're still adapting the project. How did you balance this all during school? Well,

Kara Fan  31:48

it's definitely been really hard. Like, I try to prioritize my science project, like before school, because I think school it's definitely like, my science project is definitely like, really important. And school is also really important. But I kind of tried to do my science project first, and then do my school homework. Right? Yeah, because I think like, even though school is high urgency, I think it's more important to do the important thing first, and then do my school homework. But I actually worked on my science project a lot during summer. So I tried to kind of do most of like the work during summer and kind of spread it out during the school year. Yeah, I tried to spend like around an hour a day kind of on it,

Podcast Host  32:34

how you would recommend students to find problems, right? Because sometimes when you're in the bubble of school, it can be difficult to kind of see what else is out there in the Big Bad world and to kind of look at problems that you might be able to solve unless there's problems within School, which I'm sure there are but yeah, you didn't you You looked outside and Scientific American was one of those, you know, publications that really brought awareness to this issue. And obviously know what happened to your grandma as well. So, you know, I guess, can you give students a few tips as to, if they're looking for a science project to work on? Where could they go to find some ideas?

Kara Fan  33:15

I think, well, first of all, you can look at your life like see if there any problems in your life that you want to fix. And it can be something that's inconvenient. Like for a science fair project, you don't have to solve like cancer or like any type of disease, it can be something like really convenient as well as like your phone or like, like a new piece of code or just like look at something in your life that you kind of want to improve. And for a Scientific American magazine, I read it for fun, and I just see like a lot of cool things on a magazine, and a lot of problems as well.

Podcast Host  33:47

Yes. So if you're interested in science, yes, should be I guess, investigating and learning about the science of the day, because I feel like a lot of people kind of say, Well, I'm good at science, because I get top marks in my physics or I get top my chemistry exams. But the end of the day, that's usually like things that people already know. You're just getting toward or Yes, getting asked to regurgitate knowledge. So how is that kind of mental switch from being a receiver of knowledge to I guess, going out there and finding an investigating knowledge, like almost having that kind of investigative science feel to what you do?

Kara Fan  34:27

I definitely think like investigating science and getting inspiration from like articles and like newsletters and stuff like that. It's much more interesting than trying to, like memorize like chemical equation or like this thermodynamics or something like that. It's just much more interesting because you know that you can help make a difference in the world instead of just like a

Podcast Host  34:51

Kara, how can our listeners get in contact with you or follow along with your journey?

Kara Fan  34:56

Yeah, so I actually have a website called And on my website, I just kind of put like my Animal Crossing Island in my projects and other things that like I'm interested in like, there's some ear infection projects and other stuff I'm interested in on my website. And I also have Twitter. So I have two Twitter accounts. My first one is just by personal account by car fan. And then the other one is my antibiotics account, my website and for my animal, flossing Island.

Podcast Host  35:25

And also I got a wasp because obviously Crimson helps students get into universities. Are there any universities that you are looking at at the moment that you would be like, hey, that would be really cool for me to be out. Obviously, you've been on campus at UCSD a couple of times, that one of your goals or you looking at, you know, your Ivy League, what are your thoughts on universities? I know it's pretty young, you're 14. But yeah, you might be thinking that would be a cool University for me to be at.

Kara Fan  35:49

Well, UCSD is really close to my house. So that's pretty cool. And they also have like transmission electron microscope and stuff like that. And I might want to become a doctor someday. So maybe like John Hopkins, or Stanford, and actually Stanford they have in Harvard to the mostly Stanford they have an antibiotic resistance, like campaign and awareness. And I thought that was pretty cool.

Podcast Host  36:11

Yeah, that sounds like that's right up your alley. Right.

Kara Fan  36:13


Podcast Host  36:14

Fantastic. Well, it's been awesome chatting with you, Kara. Thank you so much for joining us the top of the class, it's been super interesting. Learning about how a project goes from a moment in your life, to reading an article to boiling kale in your kitchen at home, to then working your way through a science fair to working with a mentor to winning three a science challenge to now creating something that adapts to the current circumstances around COVID-19 and where that might take you in the future as well. I think it's awesome to kind of hear that full journey. So I'm excited to share this episode with all our listeners from around the world. Talk to you soon Kara.

Kara Fan  36:50

Okay, bye.