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A Winning Idea

Heman Bekele won the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge for developing a soap that’s meant to treat skin cancer.

A teenage boy wears a 3M Young Scientist Challenge shirt and speaks in front of a display that says skin cancer treating soap.

Andy King/Discovery Education, 3M Young Scientist Challenge. 2023.

Heman Bekele presents his cancer treating soap at the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Fourteen-year-old Heman Bekele has just been named America’s Top Young Scientist! The 9th grader from Annandale, Virginia, won the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge for developing soap that’s designed to treat skin cancer.

The 3M Young Scientist Challenge invites students in 5th through 8th grade to “create an original solution to an existing problem,” according to its website. Heman, who was in 8th grade when he entered the competition, chose the problem of melanoma, a common type of skin cancer. The soap he developed contains ingredients that have been shown to slow the growth of certain types of cancer cells and boost cells in the body that protect the skin.

Cancer treatment can be very expensive, but Heman says a bar of his soap would cost about 50 cents. This would make it far more accessible for people around the world who cannot afford to treat their skin cancer any other way. 

“Imagine a world where skin cancer treatment isn’t a privilege for a few but a right for all,” Heman said in a YouTube video he created for the competition. “Our soap has the potential to reach corners of the globe where skin cancer treatment has been out of reach for far too long.”

As part of the competition, Heman and nine other finalists worked with a mentor—a scientist who helped them turn their idea into a real prototype, or example of their invention. The experience will serve Heman well—he wants to become an electrical engineer, helping to develop new forms of technology. 

A teenage boy holds a plaque and poses for a photo with a woman and two men.

Andy King/Discovery Education, 3M Young Scientist Challenge. 2023.

Heman Bekele poses with his mother after winning the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Heman envisions his soap being available by prescription. Although it will take some work to make the soap available to the public, Heman hopes to do so in the next five years.

“More than anything, I’m grateful, and I’m really, really happy to see where this project takes me,” he told NBC4 Washington, in Washington, D.C.

Did You Know?

A man touches a dial on a device with various dials and gauges and says how do I find Disney Plus on this thing.

Philo T. Farnsworth Photograph Collection/Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Philo Farnsworth poses with the television receiver he developed in the 1920s.

Some of the world’s most creative inventors came up with amazing ideas before they turned 18. In 1922, a teenager named Philo Farnsworth began imagining a device that would allow people to watch movies at home. He filed his first patent for the world’s first all-electric television in 1927, when he was barely 21.

Challenge Yourself!

Andy King/Discovery Education, 3M Young Scientist Challenge. 2023. Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

These photos show participants engaged in different activities during the 2022 and 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenges.

Do you have an idea for an invention that will solve a problem? The 3M Young Scientist Challenge is open to U.S. residents in grades 5 through 8.

To enter, students must create a short video explaining their solution. Then, with permission from a parent or guardian, they can upload the video to the 3M Young Scientist Challenge registration page. According to 3M, videos are judged on creativity, scientific knowledge, effective communication, and overall presentation. They’re not judged on production or digital effects.

A panel of scientists and other judges will select 10 finalists. With help from a mentor, finalists will have the opportunity to make their vision a reality by producing a prototype. 

3M began accepting submissions for the 2023 Challenge in December 2022, and the winner was announced in October 2023. Check out the 3M website for more details on next year’s competition!

Just One Idea

Wellcome Collection, London (CC BY 4.0), © The Keasbury-Gordon Photograph Archive/Alamy; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Where would the world be if Henry Bessemer had not come up with a new process for making steel?

In 1856, Henry Bessemer came up with a more efficient, less costly way to make steel. 

Why should you care? Bessemer’s process allowed for the expansion of railroads, the construction of skyscrapers, the mass production of cars, and much more. Bessemer is one of the people who helped make modern life possible.

One invention, or one invention plus many improvements on that invention, can transform the world. You can read more about inventors at Britannica.






: a person who has clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future

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