Five Questions with Jeanelle Dao, winner of the $10,000 Lemelson Award for Invention - Society for Science Skip to content

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Five Questions with Jeanelle Dao, winner of the $10,000 Lemelson Award for Invention

By Aparna K. Paul

Jeanelle Dao, an impressive 14-year-old eighth grader from San Jose, Calif., clinched the prestigious $10,000 Lemelson Award for Invention in last year’s Broadcom MASTERS, now the Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge. Presented by The Lemelson Foundation, this accolade recognizes outstanding young inventors who devise innovative solutions to real-world challenges. Jeanelle’s creation, a foot-controlled welcome mat, employs foot taps to unlock doors wirelessly, allowing users to go hands-free. Her device aims to assist individuals with hand impairments and challenges, such as arthritis, to help them achieve greater independence. Encouraged by her initial success, Jeanelle says she is committed to further developing her project and its potential impact.

Let’s hear more from Jeanelle below!

What would you invent if you had all the resources in the world?

If I had all the resources in the world, I’d invent things for developing countries. Sometimes we take the everyday inventions in our lives for granted, and I’d like to make certain necessities more prominent throughout the world. For example, refrigeration is in every house in the U.S., but in other countries, refrigeration is scarce. Or the most-modern healthcare isn’t available in some countries like it is in the U.S., and if I had all the resources in the world, I’d like to make technology accessible to everyone.

What would you like to be most renowned for?

I want to be renowned for my generosity. I could have all the riches in the world, but I’d like people to remember me as a kind and generous person, someone who gave back to people who helped her in the past and to people she just wanted to help. I’d like to believe that when I grow up, I won’t forget to give back to the world in every way I can, not just through my work. I’d also like to be known for my perseverance. I’d want people to remember me as someone who didn’t give up, no matter what obstacles came my way. That even if my life turned 180 degrees, I could find a way to orient myself and continue on.

What would you say in order to inspire the next generation of scientists?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is to ask yourself one question before every decision: “Will I regret not doing this?” I think it’s natural to feel this sort of fear when you’re trying something new. It’s natural to be scared to do something you’ve done before. But asking myself that question really helps me figure out if something’s worth the risk. Instead of having to live with the regret of not doing something, I imagine the regret and avoid it by taking the chance. Of course, that doesn’t mean I haven’t ever made a mistake, but it does help. So, I’d tell the next generation of scientists that if you’re ever unsure about something, ask yourself: would you regret not doing this?

What about your experience at the competition surprised you the most?

I was surprised by the natural cadence in the group. Getting there, none of us knew how we would get along, but after a few minutes, everyone was talking. On that first day, about fifteen of us were sitting at the same table even though each table was meant to hold seven. I was especially surprised by the attention to detail from the staff. Everything was planned down to the minute. Food was preplanned, we had private bus services, a private moonlight tour of the Washington D.C. monuments, the awards ceremony dinner was one of the fanciest venues I’ve seen in my life. We also had tickets to the Air and Space Museum ahead of time, we had a private session for an escape room, we got to visit George Mason University and meet passionate experts who led our team challenges, and so much more. All of it was beautifully planned, and I have to say I was shocked by how well we were treated.

What was your most memorable experience from the competition this year?

My favorite experience was the first day when everyone was flying in – it was before any judging began, and we just got a full day to chill and meet each other. In the morning, a few of us went to the zoo and we played cornhole. Later in the evening, we had orientation and a teambuilding activity. Those were the first times we really got to meet one-on-one with our teams, and I just remember the excitement. Afterward, we relaxed and played Monopoly at 11 p.m. before judging the next day. It was just a chill day before a hectic week, but the instant connection with a lot of people made it my favorite experience of the week.

The application for the 2023 Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge (JIC) is now open! The deadline is June 14, 2023 at 8p.m. ET. Learn more here. The Thermo Fisher JIC (formerly known as the Broadcom MASTERS) is Society for Science’s national STEM competition for middle school students, sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific. Nominees are chosen among the top 10% of the 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade competitors at Society-affiliated science and engineering fairs in the United States.

Aparna Paul