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Science Whiz Kid Is Feeling Minnesota

Acupoint device lands Brandon Gong finalist slot in Young Scientist Challenge

In October, Garden City Middle School student Brandon Gong will be hopping on a plane to St. Paul, MN. When the 12-year-old arrives, he’ll be competing for a chance at winning $25,000 and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” as part of the 14th Annual Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge. One of 10 finalists out of more than 600 entrants, the straight A-student is the only Long Island/New York representative along with Northport’s Aidan Dwyer.

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test given every three years to 15-year-olds worldwide, students from 16 other industrialized countries wound up with higher science scores than their American peers. While this may be middle of the pack, it is yet another poor showing for the United States, a fountainhead of inventions including global positioning systems and the iPad.

Realizing the key to regaining this country’s place as technological trailblazers, the Challenge was launched by Discovery Communications in 1999 as a means of nurturing the next generation of American scientists as a critical age when interest in science begins to decline. Middle school entrants are charged with creating an invention that would help solve an everyday problem. Fellow finalists from numerous locations around the country including California, New Hampshire and Connecticut submitted entries focused on treating chemotherapy-resistant cancer stem cells, using solar power to purify water and sleep apnea treatment respectively. Brandon Gong’s impetus for applying his cognitive skills was for dealing with a personal malady—chronic migraine headaches.

“I suffer from migraine headaches and I have to take numerous medications to feel better but acupuncture works better than anything I’ve tried so far,” explained the slender middle-schooler. “The acupuncture is efficient and can sometimes be painful with needles. So I wanted to create a machine that did the same functions as acupuncture except in a more efficient and painless way.”

Gong’s incredibly impressive device uses an app to control the frequency and amplitude of the stimulation and sends all this information to the transmitter, which in turn forwards it to a microcomputer in the stimulator, a metal disc about the size of a quarter. Placed upon a specific acupressure area, the mechanism then begins stimulation of the point of sensitivity for whichever acupressure point of the body it is pressing up against. According to the National Headache foundation, nearly 30 million Americans are afflicted by migraines annually, so the need for this kind of panacea is great.

Another facet of the competition is having all 10 finalists getting paired with 3M scientists/mentors to complete a summer assignment having to do with innovation. Together, each duo works virtually through pre-assigned objectives with resources and support provided by contest sponsors. Gong’s mentor is Dr. Cordell Hardy, who started working with him back in the second week of July. Despite only knowing the Garden City native such a short time, the chemical engineer is nevertheless impressed by his charge’s excitement, determination and smarts that go well beyond his years.

“Brandon knew that there had to be a more efficient way to deal with his chronic migraine pain, which is what led him to his current innovation,” explained the 3M technical manager. “After talking about the scientific principles behind the device and how he settled on its current design, I was impressed that Brandon’s idea would be beyond the grasp of many students much older than he is – high school, and even some in college.”

Incredibly enough, Gong was working on his invention well before he became aware of the Young Scientist Challenge. The son of an engineer and a doctor, he’s a high achiever following in the footsteps of older sister Jan, a Harvard University sophomore. A love of science has been a constant throughout his life dating back to his being read bedtime stories from a science textbook as a young child.

“My love of science began when I was very young. I was very curious and science gave me the most suitable answers to the questions I asked,” he recalled. “Then I grew up in a family that loved science so I, of course, love science too.”

And this thirst for knowledge has by no means abated during a summer vacation that’s seen Gong attend math camp at Cornell University and spend time at a Cold Spring Harbor DNA laboratory. In many ways a typical ’tween who loves tennis and running, this young man has also developed into a fencing aficionado and an accomplished musician, adept at playing piano, clarinet and oboe. But in being selected as a finalist for this prestigious national competition, Brandon Gong makes it clear where his career path lies.

“I want to become a scientist in the future. In our technologically advanced world, I will work hard to be on the cutting edge of new discoveries and advancements in the field of science,” he says.

To view a video of Brandon Gong’s invention and those of the nine other Young Scientist Challenge finalists, please visit www.youngscientistchallenge.com/12challenge/student-bios.html.