When Leanne Fan, an 8th grader from San Diego, witnessed her mother’s frequent issues with ear pain and infections, she knew there had to be a better way to help her face this problem. But how? Turning an idea into a reality is no easy feat, especially for a student her age. Luckily, Leanne discovered the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and saw an opportunity.
The 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a unique, project-based learning opportunity that gives students in grades 5-8 the chance to change the world for the better with an innovative idea. Students are asked submit a 1–2-minute video in which they describe a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem. Ten student finalists are then selected each year to participate in a virtual summer mentorship, where they are paired with a 3M Scientist who helps guide the student make their idea a reality.
In 2022, Leanne Fan became one of those 10 students. Along with her 3M Scientist mentor, she was able to pursue her idea of how to detect and treat middle ear infections and develop a working prototype to help her mother, and of course, other people around the world.
The Discovery Education team interviewed Leanne, the 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge winner, where she discussed her experience competing in the challenge, offered advice for students thinking of participating, and shared her goals for the future. Read on to learn more about Leanne’s winning innovation and what she learned from the 3M Young Scientist Challenge!
Meet Leanne Fan – Winner of the 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge!
I’m currently in 9th grade, and I won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge last year in 2022. I live in San Diego, California. I love drawing and playing golf because of how relaxing they both are, and they allow me to take my mind off of school. My favorite class I’ve taken so far is AP Chemistry. The content is definitely very difficult but it’s also really fun to know about why things work the way they do!
Tell us about your 3M Young Scientist Challenge innovation. What inspired it?
My project, the Finsen Headphones, detect and treat middle ear infections as a low-cost preventative measure to hearing loss, especially in children. They use acoustic reflectometry and machine learning to detect the ear infections, and use blue light to treat them, all in one pair of headphones! These were inspired by my mom because she got ear infections often and was in a lot of pain due to recurring infections. I wanted to make my device easy to use, so I combined the detection and treatment into headphones so that you can listen to music while treating your ear infection.
What was the most important thing you learned from competing in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge?
The most important thing I learned in competing in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is the importance of teamwork! We participated in multiple challenges that all required us to work together efficiently to solve a problem. I noticed that these challenges were only possible if we shared what we knew with each other, therefore allowing us to come to an accurate conclusion. Communication is super important, and making sure everyone knows what they are doing and is included allows for a better overall result!
Check out the 3M YSC Challenge application process and get started today!
What was the biggest obstacle you faced from competing in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge?
The biggest obstacle I faced from competing in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge was honestly just having to say goodbye to everyone. I had such an amazing time learning more about how science can be applied to life and hanging out with the other finalists, I really didn’t want to leave! Other than that, I had some problems that I came across when I was developing my prototype, such as not being able to find a lab and the bacteria not growing well, although in the end I was able to solve these problems!
How did your mentor help you through the process?
My mentor, Ross, was really helpful in guiding me through the problems I faced and just the overall process of going from idea to prototype. It was amazing to be able to meet with him every week and just talk about my project and potential solutions to things that didn’t go right. For example, Ross was able to get me in contact with a microbiologist and an ENT so I could gain more knowledge about those fields! I was able to improve my project so much faster under his mentorship, and it was also really nice to learn about the different fields of science in 3M!
What advice do you have for students who are thinking about competing in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge?
My advice for students who are interested in competing in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is to not hesitate and go for it! It’s really helpful to make a list of problems you want to solve or the ideas you have, and narrow them down to the things you’re really passionate about. There are so many resources online about how to build prototypes and even just how to write a hypothesis. Don’t be afraid, because you can always keep submitting your improved projects. If you don’t get in one year, keep on trying, because I didn’t get into the top 10 on my first try!
What career path are you interested in and what inspired you to consider it?
I’m really interested in going into the medical field, and have been debating between being an ENT or an orthodontist. I’ve been doing research on ears for over three years, so being an ENT kind of just makes sense to me! I already know it’s something I enjoy. I’m also considering becoming an orthodontist or even an orthopedic surgeon because I love smiles and like the idea of making people more confident and comfortable with themselves! Overall, it’s pretty much in my nature to gravitate towards anything medical and scientific. Even as a kid, I would borrow my dad’s books about diseases to read, being fascinated by how they are treated. A huge teller for me has been that I can easily remember concepts in chemistry because I find them interesting, but I struggled in history class a lot because I couldn’t remember the names of presidents or explain how parts of the government worked. I just want to do something I will be happy with!
Inspire scientific exploration and innovation for students in grades 5-8 with the 3M Young Scientist Challenge! Encourage students to learn more about a topic they’re interested in for the chance to win a 3M mentorship.
Not sure where to start on your entry or have a question about the entry process? We are here to help! Register to attend the 3M YSC Office Hours on March 28, 2023 from 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET for an overview of the challenge and a live Q&A session.