A 14-year-old student who invented a device that detects and treats mid-ear infections in children was awarded this year’s 3M Young Scientist Challenge grand prize.
Leanne Fan, an eighth grader from San Diego, California, developed the low-cost wearable device by using machine learning technology and blue light therapy.
Fan named them “Finsen Headphones” after Niels Finsen, the Nobel Prize recipient who discovered that ultraviolet light can help treat bacterial infections.
“Every year over 10 percent of the world’s population experience a mid-ear infection, most of which are children or underprivileged people,” Fan explained in her submission entry to the renowned science competition. “Furthermore, not everyone has access to a doctor which makes it difficult to diagnose and treat a mid-ear infection. My solution to this mid-ear infection problem is to create a low-cost device that can both detect and treat a mid-ear infection.”
In addition to potentially preventing up to 60 percent of hearing loss in children, Fan’s Finsen Headphones can also play music. Fan said she likes to listen to K-pop group BTS on her smart headphones.
When Fan became a finalist in the challenge, she was assigned a mentor who helped her transform her idea into a working prototype, according to a press release from 3M. Dr. Ross Behling, a scientist from 3M’s material laboratory, worked with Fan one-on-one until the prototype was ready.
Last month, Fan unveiled her final presentation at the 3M headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she competed against eight other finalists.
Along with the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist,” Fan won a $25,000 cash prize and a special destination trip. According to Fan, she plans to use some of the prize money to process the patent application for her invention.
The second prize was awarded to Harini Venkatesh from New Hampshire, who invented a cost-efficient solution that calculates myopic power quickly and accurately in patients. Meanwhile, Shanza Sami from Iowa came in third for developing a five-stage air pollution filtration device. Each of them received a $1,000 prize and a special destination trip.
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