High school student, named ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’, counters AMR

Kara Fan is an aspiring young scientist from the United States who is passionate about producing solutions to drug-resistant infections. Ankur Midha, Flemingo’s founder, sat down with her over Zoom to chat about all the projects Kara is working on and how the scientific community can engage more with younger people, like herself. 

To start off, do you mind introducing yourself?  

My name is Kara Fan and I am a 10th grader at Westview High School. I am interested in raising awareness of antibiotic resistance, which is one of the greatest health problems in the world right now. I am also the winner of the 2019 3M Young Scientist Challenge. In my free time, one of my favorite hobbies is playing golf.  

When did you become interested in AMR and antibiotics and how did you gain interest in this field?  

I got interested in AMR about two years ago, when I was in 8th grade, after one of my family members was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. She was sent to the emergency room and it was really frightening for me. Fortunately, she was saved by antibiotics. At that time, I somehow did not know what antibiotics were, so I just researched a little bit more about them. Through this research, I found out that some antibiotics were becoming resistant and that is how I got interested in it. 

You have quite a few projects going on at the moment, can you tell me a little bit about your nano-silver liquid bandage? 

I started this project called nano-silver liquid bandage to reduce the overuse of antibiotics. Basically, it’s a liquid bandage that you spray on to a wound and it will create a thin film to protect the wounded area. The nano-silver has antibacterial properties, so it is meant to kill the bacteria to prevent infection. It has not been tested on patients, yet, but I entered my project idea into the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which I ended up winning. During the competition, I sent a prototype to a toxicologist who confirmed antimicrobial activity. I also tested for antimicrobial properties in my minilab at home and did some of the testings at my school lab, too. I am also working on another project related to AMR, microbiology, and nanoengineering.  

Can you tell us a little bit about this other project of yours? 

Sure, the project is in its early stages and it is inspired by dragonfly wings. Dragonflies have structures on their wings called nanopillars, and these pillars have antimicrobial properties. They are like dry, thin rods that kind of stick out and they are supposed to ‘puncture’ the bacteria. I want to try to replicate these structures so they could be used to kill bacteria for surgical implants and bandages – instead of having to use antimicrobial agents. 

Can you tell us about how you are raising AMR awareness on Animal Crossing and for those who don’t know, could you tell us a little bit about the game? 

Animal Crossing is right now one of the most popular virtual games. It is like a life simulation where you can customize your own island and players can visit each other’s islands. I put posters up on my island that shared information about drug resistance that other players could then read. Since AMR might not be something people want to learn out of a textbook or read online, I decided to use Animal Crossing as a fun way to raise awareness and teach others about antibiotic resistance. I also raise awareness by sharing photos of my island on Twitter.  

That’s a unique way of trying to reach out to people! Do you have any ideas about or other tips you might have for how the scientific community can reach out to younger people? 

I saw there are some accounts that are making games, such as antibiotic resistance cards that help teach people about the subject. I also visited a museum in China once and they had a whole exhibition with films that I really liked and that I found very funny, so using cartoons – or something like that – to engage younger people. 

Listen to an except of our chat over on our IGTV.