Alex Capecelatro won a 3rd Place Award in Materials and Bioengineering at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in 2006. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering, Alex went on to found At the Pool, a social networking site.
What was your experience being an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalist like?
Being a finalist was a pretty amazing experience. I met a ton of really smart, highly engaged students working on world-changing ideas ranging from mathematics to biology to robotics. I had never heard of Intel ISEF going into my senior year of high school and then nine months later, I was there presenting my work. It was a humbling experience.
Can you provide a short description of your research project?
My project was titled “Nanoengineering Aerogel for Insulin Insulation” and I was awarded a special award from the United States Army and a 3rd Award in the Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering category. I was working with aerogels to create super-insulating capsules for passive refrigeration of insulin (a problem that was making headlines back in 2005 and 2006 as diabetics without electricity were left with few options). In order to solve this problem, I constructed a home-built supercritical extractor and helped formulate a new series of polymer-crosslinked aerogels. As a type-1 diabetic, I was accustomed to traveling with insulin and the issues that arise when it warms up, so I set out to make a product that would better my life as well as others living with diabetes.
How did participating in events like Intel ISEF affect your career trajectory?
I learned a number of things by participating in Intel ISEF. First, I learned how to present a complicated set of scientific achievements and translate them to layman’s terms. If your work remains esoteric and complicated, it’s hard to ever make an impact. So I was set on simplifying the problem and creating a compelling story that justified my work and got people to emotionally connect. Second, I learned the power of reaching out to experts in the field to help as mentors and advisors, to aid in my scientific exploration, and to help provide resources for my work. This included welders and pipe-fitters, graduate students at MIT and UCLA, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Glenn Research Center, as well as local chemistry teachers. Third, this experience gave me a greater appreciation for engineering and the sciences and the impact you can make by getting out and building something.
What are you up to now?
I graduated with a degree in Materials Science & Engineering from UCLA, have published a handful of papers and contributed to a number of patents in the chemical / nanotech fields, and have worked with researchers at Harvard, Sandia National Lab, the Naval Research Lab, and UCLA.
Two years ago I left my job at Fisker Automotive to start my own company in the software space. We launched a product called At The Pool which aims to connect people offline and build better communities. We’ve been called the “anti-Facebook,” have grown to include members in more than 98 countries, and focus intently on making people’s lives better through facilitating offline events and activities. We’ve been fortunate to raise capital from a bevy of sophisticated investors and we’re launching a new mobile product at the end of summer.
Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
I highly encourage young students to explore opportunities in the science and engineering fields. The opportunity to build and create world-changing innovations while working amongst some of the brightest minds is truly a privilege. It is important to get good grades and work hard, but ultimately it’s the side projects that are most rewarding. If you have an idea to cure a disease or invent a new device, nothing is stopping you from carrying through with it. It’s amazing how many people will support and help if you just ask. When you realize anything is possible the journey becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun!