Why Billionaire Eric Schmidt Is Supporting A High School Student Making A Cancer-Screening Toothbrush And Other Bright Teens

When James Chau Nguyen’s grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in March 2020, the tumor in her brain was already too large to remove. Nguyen, then a high school sophomore in California, took the news particularly hard. Just eight months earlier, Nguyen and her mother emigrated to the US, preventing them from traveling back to Vietnam to see her during the pandemic.

“It was a difficult time both financially and emotionally,” says Nguyen.

Nguyen felt helpless and began to voraciously read cancer research articles. While researching new cancer immunotherapies, Nguyen devised a prototype toothbrush that uses a nanochip to separate cancer cells from saliva. He envisions that a compartment in the electric toothbrush charging station would collect the sample, which could then be sent to a laboratory for analysis using designed Universal CAR-T cells to detect cancer.

The device is currently being tested at a biomedical company in Southern California. While Nguyen’s idea is still very theoretical, if it works, Nguyen hopes it will become a commercial product that could help people like his grandmother find cancer early. He hasn’t yet patented the idea, but it is something he is considering.

“I don’t want a lot of people to experience what my grandmother did or even experience what I did,” says Nguyen. “And that’s why I put together this project.”

Nguyen is one of 100 promising teens announced Thursday as the second cohort of Rise Global Winners. The billion-dollar program, funded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, aims to identify promising young people between the ages of 15 and 17 who are working to solve the world’s toughest problems. world. Other 2022 winners include Jacqueline Prawira, a California high school student who invented a way to use fish scale waste to remove heavy metals from wastewater; Kambiré Cyé Antonio Angelberg, the founder of a group called CMath that organizes national math and physics Olympiads in Burkina Faso, and Rishabh Ambavanekar, a teenager who built a brain-computer interface that helps stroke victims communicate. A full list of winners can be found. here.

“This all started because Wendy and I were talking about how we got here, and the answer is that a lot of people helped us,” says Eric, describing the mentorship and encouragement he received from others. The pair want to do the same for a new generation of creative problem solvers.

Building the Rise program from scratch is a different approach to philanthropy than someone like MacKenzie Scott, who is pouring money into existing institutions and nonprofits at a rapid pace, is pursuing. Forbes estimates that the Schmidts, worth an estimated $17.5 billion, have already donated nearly $750 million to charitable causes in their lifetime through a combination of philanthropic initiatives, including the Schmidt Ocean Institute, which works to advance research. marina, and the Schmidt Family Foundation, which funds organizations working on a variety of environmental causes.

The Schmidts support this particular model for Rise: finding and supporting talented young people, because “brilliant people, geniuses of different and diverse kinds, can have an enormous impact in solving the problems that lie ahead,” says Eric Braverman. , Executive Director. from Schmidt Futures, the philanthropic vehicle that runs the Rise program. Still, billionaire philanthropy has come under intense scrutiny in recent times for undemocratically allowing the wealthy influence our society or avoid taxes. When the Rise program was first announced in 2019, journalist Theodore Schleifer, who now covers money and power in Silicon Valley for the website Puck, plot that the Schmidts could better spend their money on causes that would have a clearer and more immediate impact on the world.

“We have published what we are trying to do. We are trying to make the world a better place. And I love criticism in the form of ‘This is not going to work’. You got this wrong. You have the wrong entry position. Your biases are wrong and whatnot,’” says Eric. “I’m used to being in the public eye. And I want people to read what we’re doing, and I want them to improve it.”

Rise was founded in 2019 by Eric and Wendy Schmidt in association with the UK-based charity Rhodes Trust, which also oversees the Rhodes Scholarship, as an effort to identify future change-makers and support them early on. The Schmidts are unapologetic about the show’s Silicon Valley character. Research showspoint out, that you can identify exceptional people around the age of 16.

“It’s a great experiment to see if we can systematize identifying exceptional people at that age,” says Eric, a computer science Ph.D. who served as Google CEO from 2001 to 2011 and CEO from 2011 to 2017. “We think that plays. We’ll find out. We will have our report card in a few years.”

To earn a coveted spot among this group, each applicant must submit a video, create a project that benefits their community, and review other submissions. Winners get a full scholarship to a four-year university of their choice, access to a network of other winners, mentorship opportunities, an invitation to a three-week summit, and technology like laptops and tablets. At any point in their lives, Rise winners can also apply for program funds for a social enterprise or nonprofit organization.

Some 13,000 people applied for the program this year, and another 107,000 signed up for the Rise Global Community, which offers learning materials and other opportunities. The 2022 class of winners represents 47 different nationalities, with equal numbers of young men and women. The winners are not just in science, technology, engineering and math. Reese Andrei Stoica, a teenager from Romania, created a magazine that features transgender bodies. Another teenager, Asher Segun-Olasanmi, is trying to combat the stigma around mental health conditions in southwestern Nigeria.

The Schmidts think that bringing these teenagers together will produce some sort of breakthrough, in the short term and possibly in the much longer term.

“What if the people from around the world who participated in this program 20 years from now were friends, knew each other, and shared resources for life? It would be a powerful force for positive change,” says Wendy.

Other readings:

Inside Google Billionaire Eric Schmidt’s $1 Billion Moon Shot Plan to Fund the World’s Most Promising Teenagers (Forbes)

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