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California teen grabs top Intel science award

By Amy He in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2014-04-03 11:11

 California teen grabs top Intel science award

Eric Chen (center), a 17-year-old senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, takes home the top prize at the annual Intel Science Talent Search, receiving $100,000 in prize money for his research on potential new drugs to treat influenza. Provided to China Daily

Despite winning one of the biggest and most prestigious science and math competitions for US teenagers, 17-year-old Eric Chen has no plans to stop there.

Since nabbing the top award of $100,000 from the Intel Foundation in March, the Chinese-American high school student who lives in San Diego has had a non-stop schedule, with very little down time. And his next stop will be Los Angeles, said his father, Longchuan Chen, who is a biologist at a hospital. He said his son qualified through a local science fair last week as a finalist for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in that city in May.

"I've found that the key is efficiency. I try to do work whenever I can, such as when I'm waiting for an experiment to finish," Chen told China Daily in an email. "I think that work is like a gas and expands to the time that you give it, and by focusing and being efficient I've been able to juggle all my extracurriculars."

Chen won for his research on potential new drugs to treat influenza, focusing on drugs that inhibit endonuclease, an enzyme essential for viruses to grow.

"Society for Science and the Public proudly joins Intel in congratulating Eric Chen for his impressive research toward potential new drugs for influenza," said Rick Bates, interim CEO and chief advancement officer for SSP, in a statement. "By linking technology and science to the problems of the world they see around them, Eric and all the Intel STS finalists are tomorrow's problem solvers."

Chen said that the first cases of the global H1N1 swine flu pandemic happened in San Diego, California, when he was 13, and he remembered being startled by it.

"Since then, I've seen the flu pop up in the news time and time again, and have seen the situation get worse and worse," he said. "This urgency was what motivated me to work on finding new flu drugs." He hopes his work will lead to a new class of drugs to control flu outbreaks, he said, and that methods he used in his studies can speed up the discovery of life-saving medication for other diseases.

Chen is a student at Canyon Crest Academy, a public school founded in 2004, where he is co-president of the school's fencing team and a junior Olympics qualifier. Chen has been fencing since elementary school, and finds it "mentally stimulating".

"[It] gives me a nice break from studying," he said. But, "though it's fun, I still think the sciences are more my thing."

Chen said he wants to attend Harvard University or Stanford University, and is thinking about studying computer science or bioengineering, but he's not yet sure. Chen said that he will use his award money to pay for college.

What he does know is that he still has a lot to learn, he said. "I've found so many different things interesting and have not really decided what I'd like to do in the future. Whatever I will do, I still hope to change countless people's lives for the better," he said.


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