OAKLAND -- Kelly Zhang may be on the cusp of an important scientific discovery, and she isn't even out of high school.
The 17-year-old senior from the College Preparatory School in Oakland, whose research focuses on the nanodetection of cancer cells, is one of 40 finalists for the Intel Science Talent Search, competing for $630,000 in awards. If she wins the March 12 competition in Washington, D.C., the Orinda teenager will take home $100,000. Zhang said she feels "extremely lucky" to receive the recognition and have her research highlighted on a national stage.
"One of the most important parts for me is for people to know this is an important issue," she said. "Cancer projects are not uncommon at all, but it's great that I have the opportunity to share this perspective and work."
Zhang is working on fluorescent imaging technology that will aid surgeons in detecting cancer cells during operations.
"Many tiny cancer cells remain in the body after surgery," she said.
She was inspired to work on the project by the experiences of family friends who have had cancer-related surgeries. Zhang, who has done some of her work at UC Berkeley and University of the Pacific, has extensively reviewed the research of other scientists working on nanodetection.
Bernie Shellem, an advanced biology teacher at College Preparatory, is struck by Zhang's dedication, spending summers conducting research. Her understanding of cell structure is impressive, he said.
"Even as a sophomore, she gave a really polished
presentation for a girl that is 14 years old," he said, noting that she helps other students in lab settings. "It was knowledgeable and very sophisticated for a girl that young."
Zhang said she wants to pursue a career in science, perhaps as a doctor or clinical researcher. She said she hasn't decided yet where she wants to go to college but is looking at East Coast schools.
Zhang was selected for the Intel Science Talent Search from 300 semifinalists across the nation. She is one of five students from the Bay Area selected for the prestigious competition, which awards each finalist at least $7,500.