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Teen cancer researchers meet Nobel Laureates in Stockholm

The Intel ISEF 2017 finalists and other young scientists traveled on a boat during the Nobel festivities in Stockholm. Photo courtesy of Karina Movsesian.

It’s not every day that a college freshman gets to dine with Nobel Laureates. But that’s exactly what three Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalists did this winter when they traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to attend the Nobel Prize festivities as well as the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS), an annual weeklong event for young international scientists. Prathik Naidu, Karina Movsesian, and Jeremiah Pate were each awarded the trip to Stockholm during Intel ISEF 2017, through the Dudley R. Herschbach Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar Award.

Check out what Prathik and Karina had to say about their experience.


Prathik: My favorite part of the trip was meeting the Nobel Laureates and other scientists from different countries. And the Nobel banquet was awesome and formal. At SIYSS I got to learn more about my peer scientists from other countries. We had a lot of icebreakers, bonding events, and we even went curling, Sweden’s national sport. Being able to learn about science from an international perspective is really useful. This trip has inspired me to pursue research and internship opportunities through study abroad.

Karina: Arriving at the Stockholm airport, I couldn’t have predicted the stunning week I was about to experience. Activities included listening to Nobel lectures, curling, living on a boat on the sea, visiting Swedish AstraZeneca, learning about Swedish traditions like Fika (a concept in Swedish culture of relaxing with coffee), and partying until 5 a.m. with the Nobel Laureates. What I enjoyed the most was getting to know some of the most dedicated and interesting people around the world.


Prathik: It inspired me to continue pursuing science research. I want to learn more about the Nobel Laureates’ projects. It was a great experience to interact with them and see how they’ve dedicated the past 30 years or so of their lives to solving problems in their fields.

Intel ISEF will always be one of the best weeks of my life.

Karina: Dressed in our nicest gowns, we were honored to participate in the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, which was followed by the Nobel banquet. During the banquet, we dined with the King of Sweden, the Royal Family, the Nobel Laureates, and distinguished guests, and raised our glasses to His Majesty’s toasts and the Laureates’ speeches. Afterward, we went to the Golden Hall, where the dancing began. Between dances we casually exchanged thoughts with the Nobel Laureates. The best part of the whole banquet was the Nobel NightCap, organized by the Medical Students’ Association at Karolinska, probably one of the most impressive and unusual parties I will ever experience. I can’t possibly thank the Society for Science & the Public enough for such an incredible experience!

The finalists even got a chance to go curling, Sweden's national sport.
The finalists even got a chance to go curling, Sweden’s national sport. Photo courtesy of Karina Movsesian.


Karina: Staying in downtown, Los Angeles, having a chance to attend truly engaging panels, and getting to know amazing people that share a passion for science. Intel ISEF will always be one of the best weeks of my life. My favorite part of Intel ISEF was the public visitation day, as we not only had a chance to present our projects to visitors and younger students but by walking and getting to know other participants’ projects, I was excited to see what amazing results we all have been able to achieve.

Prathik: I really enjoyed interacting with the judges and fellow competitors in my category. It was really cool to meet people interested in the same things that you are.


Prathik: I developed software called DNALoopR, a technology that allows us to better analyze cancer. It’s a machine learning software to identify genome-wide 3D DNA interactions in cancer, which is difficult to do with current experimental methods. My software offers more opportunity to answer questions about how DNA forms structures in the human body and helps answer some of the fundamental questions of the disease. And it presents a new opportunity for more efficient and powerful cancer therapeutics — my software improves DNA analysis efficiency by over 30 percent.

Science fairs help spark an interest in young students.

Karina: I aimed to understand how protein mutations contribute to the formation of a tumor. The protein I focused on, RAD51, takes care of broken DNA strands in our cells and protects cells from DNA damage. As this protein is extremely important for cell survival, it was very puzzling to find mutations of RAD51 in tumor cells. To determine how it was possible that those cancer cells aren’t dying, even though they have such an important protein mutated, I conducted a biochemical characterization of a RAD51 mutation that was found in a very aggressive uterine tumor. The results provided a striking explanation for this phenomenon. Although there was a mutation, the mutated protein was still able to repair broken DNA efficiently. However, I also found that there was a different defect. Mutated protein could not fulfill a RAD51 role in the protection of duplicating DNA. This could thus explain a mechanism by which RAD51 mutations confer an advantage for tumorigenesis.

Students at the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar, which three Intel ISEF 2017 finalists attended.
Students at the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar, which three Intel ISEF 2017 finalists attended. Photo courtesy of Prathik Naidu.


Prathik: My experience pursuing science projects and being part of the Society for Science & the Public’s community and Intel ISEF has been a game-changing experience for me. Science fairs help spark an interest in young students in areas they normally wouldn’t be involved in.

Karina: Not only was Intel ISEF an invaluable experience it encouraged me to engage in mentoring younger students by providing guidance for their science fair projects. I firmly believe that science fairs, at any level, are extremely important. Apart from strengthening our communication skills and broadening our scientific knowledge, science fairs help encourage students to participate in research or science clubs outside the classroom, to actively seek ways to solve challenging problems, and to experience the thrill of research. And most importantly, science fairs have an ability to inspire others.

Most importantly, science fairs have an ability to inspire others.


Prathik: I’m super interested in computer science and healthcare. I want to be at that nexus of computer science, healthcare, and entrepreneurship. We’re at that inflection point where everything is really having a tech influence. Currently, I’m working in the Stanford artificial intelligence lab, predicting emergency responses in hospitals. Long term, I want to get involved in AI healthcare, for example working at or creating a startup that uses software to solve problems.

Karina: I’m thrilled by the achievements of science, especially by applications of its advancements on human health and longevity. I would like to pursue an academic career in the field of molecular biology and biochemistry.


Prathik: Just be curious. I believe in not letting your age define what you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how the world works. Explore problems you’re interested in solving — whether that means reading a bunch of articles, asking your professor questions, or getting involved in class.

Karina: Be it bringing back dinosaurs, a colonization of other planets, or never seeing your beloved ones suffer and die from diseases — find what is important to you, what really gets you excited, and then simply give your best.

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