A 14-year-old Poway Unified School District student is a finalist in a competition for her invention of headphones that detect and treat mid-ear infections.
Leanne Fan, who attended Mesa Verde Middle School, is one of 10 finalists in the 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
“I was super excited. My heart almost stopped,” she said about learning she was a finalist. “I was really happy.”
Fan said she was inspired by the ear infections she and her mother would often get. She researched online and talked with college professors about different ideas on how to detect and treat the infections.
Her invention, Finsen Headphones, provides a low-cost option to detect and treat a mid-ear infection using machine learning and blue-light therapy — potentially preventing up to 60% of hearing loss in children, she said.
The project took about three years, she said. The blue light therapy is used to kill the bacteria that would otherwise cause the ear infection.
Every year, there are 700 million cases of mid-ear infections and nearly 21,000 deaths worldwide, according to the contest website. Many of those impacted are children and underprivileged populations. Without medical access and or healthcare, diagnosis and treatment of mid-ear infections are often difficult.
For her invention, Fan is in the running to win $25,000.
Fan’s family is no stranger to the contest. Her sister, Kara, won the coveted prize in 2019 with a a spray-on bandage that uses microscopic silver particles rather than antibiotics.
Fan said she was inspired to compete after witnessing her sister’s experience.
“I saw all the amazing people that she met,” she said.
Fan is being mentored by a senior research specialist from 3M. The two meet weekly on Zoom.
“It’s going really amazing,” she said.
This year’s finalist recipients feature innovations from young scientists — students ages 12 to 14 — who submitted a one- to two-minute video communicating a solution to an everyday problem in their community or the world and the science behind their solution.
A diverse group of judges, including 3M scientists and leaders in education from across the country, evaluated entries based on creativity, scientific knowledge and communication effectiveness.
The final event will take place Oct. 17-18 at the 3M Innovation Center in Minneapolis.
“At 3M, we are committed to unlocking the power of our people, science, and ideas to reimagine what comes next. The ‘3M Young Scientist Challenge’ supports young innovators who have demonstrated that same passion through creative discovery and the desire to improve the world around us,” said Karina Chavez, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at 3M.
“We are thrilled to welcome the latest generation of finalists and honorable mention recipients, and we are energized by a future that embraces STEM-for-all to build a better tomorrow.”
In its 15th year, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge continues to inspire and challenge middle school students to think creatively and apply the power of STEM to discovering real-world solutions, organizers said. America’s Top Young Scientists have gone on to give TED Talks, file patents, found nonprofits, make the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and exhibit at the White House Science Fair.
The young innovators have also been named Time Magazine’s first Kid of the Year, featured in The New York Times Magazine, Forbes and Business Insider, and have appeared on national television programs such as Good Morning America, CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Fan, who will be a freshman at Westview High School this fall, said she hopes to have a major involving STEM in college. For a career, she wants to create something that will help people, she said.