Code, Resistors, DNA
And A 1 5 Year Old Science Maniac!
My name is Austin McCoy. I am 15 years old and from Rochester, Minnesota, where I'm an 9th grader at Century High School. In my free time, I love to explore all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I also love playing video games and sports. Baseball is my favorite! Go Boston Red Sox!
The purpose of this blog is to capture and share with you my experiences. For as long as I can remember, science and math have been my favorite subjects. I am very grateful that I've had people in my life who have encouraged, inspired, and most importantly, supported me in my interests.
My parents have often led science and math enrichment groups at my school and have coached Math Masters, Science Olympiad and First Lego League Teams. My dad has always included me in his hobbies such as building a helium balloon to launch into space. He also taught me how to program PIC microcontrollers. All of these experiences have fueled my excitement for STEM!
How I Got Started
When I was in 5th grade, my school partnered with the InSciEd Out Program, and I met a scientist named Dr. Chris Pierret. He became my mentor and allowed me to come into his lab at Mayo Clinic where he taught me how to extract DNA and how to analyze it using electrophoresis. I was able to model cellular reproduction in zebrafish. I then had the opportunity to present my research at the International Zebrafish Conference in Rochester, MN and Madison, Wisconsin. These were amazing experiences for me!
While in his lab, my mentor shared experiences from his trips to India and Africa. He told me how people were dying in third world countries simply because technology wasn't available for rapid disease detection. After these discussions, I knew that I wanted to try to develop technology that could help these people.
Shortly after, I came across some articles by Dr. Eva Harris of the University of California at Berkeley. She specifically discussed the need for low cost thermocyclers in developing areas. Thermocyclers are used to amplify DNA in order to quickly detect viruses such as Dengue Fever.
My dad is an electrical engineer and he offered to mentor me as well. He taught me so much about engineering and computer programming. My mom is a biologist and biostatistician. She taught me how to analyze data and make presentations.
Thermocycler in the Science Fair
By February of 2013, I had designed and built a working thermocycler. I entered this project in the Rochester Regional Science Fair and later presented it at the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair. At both fairs, I received a Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, Engineering and Science ) Nomination. In early August, I was notified that I was a semifinalist in the Broadcom MASTERS Progam and in late August, I learned that I had been named one of thirty finalists in the nation and would be flown to Washington DC for the national competition.
My experiences at the competition were incredible. I was surrounded by so many amazing people. I competed in group challenges such as decrypting the Mayan Numeral System, designing electrical circuits, determining the source of water contamination, and exploring the future of solar energy. I also met Eben Upton, the inventor of the Raspberry Pi. Another highlight was presenting my science project to judges and the public at the National Geographic Museum.
Some of the most exciting moments of my trip were when I got to tour the Oval Office and meet President Obama. He talked to us about the importance of STEM in the 21st century, shook our hands and called us by name.
On the final evening of the competition, the finalists gathered at The Carnegie Institute of Science for an awards ceremony. I was both surprised and ecstatic to learn that I had won the 1st Place Technology Award; a $3500 stipend for a STEM Camp or internship (and an Ipad!). The MIT Lincoln Laboratory also named minor planets after all 30 finalists. It is cool to look into the sky and think that there is a planet "Austin Sagan McCoy" out there! This was truly one of the most incredible weeks of my life.
Mayo Clinic Internship
Soon after returning from Washington D.C., my Mayo Clinic mentor invited me to travel with him to New Delhi, India as part of a team that will partner with the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology. I ultimately brought my thermocycler and presented in front of teachers, researchers, and mentors to enrich my understanding of how this machine can integrate into our current science. After returning from this exciting internship, I utilized the knowledge I acquired from this experience and developed the 5th prototype with their suggestions in mind.
After a summer's worth of research, including a brand new prototype, a printed circuit, detection system, business plan, advanced schematics, and extensive testing, I combined all of this work into a poster to present at the Zebrafish Disease Model's Society conference at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. This conference provided insight into how I should continue directing my work on my thermocycler and detection system from respectable researchers across the world.