Jason Gandelman didn’t think his stuff was “sexy” or “good-looking” enough to draw a 2nd look.
He should have had more faith in Advanced Glycation End-Products, and how their buildup and activation are strongly linked to the cause of common diabetic complications like atherosclerosis and kidney failure.
That was the gist of his 3-year Authentic Science Research project at Staples. And — sexy or not — it’s earned Jason a coveted finalist spot in the Intel Science Talent Search.
Next month the senior joins 39 other high school students from around the country in Washington, DC. They’ll present their projects to a panel of judges; display their work to the public — and hope to win the $100,000 1st prize.
Jason would be Staples’ 2nd Intel national prizewinner. Mariangela Lisanti captured the mega-prestigious honor — for the contest long known as the Westinghouse science search — in 2001.
Jason may not have thought his project — which provides new directions in the creation of medications to cure the horrible diabetic complications of blood vessels and kidneys — had sex appeal.
But he knew that the research he’d conducted at Yale for 2 years was strong, and worthy of a shot at the Intel competition.
The process was as lengthy as a college application. Jason submitted a 20-page paper outlining his reearch, plus 2 long essays on his science abilities and view of important scientific problems for the future.
From the time he entered Staples — as far back as Coleytown El and Midle School, really — Jason has enjoyed the help of caring, committed teachers.
Drs. Nick Morgan, Michele Morse and AJ Scheetz helped lead him through the intensive, multi-year Science Research course — while fostering the independence and creativity any scientist craves. Westport Teacher of the Year Mike Aitkenhead wrote a recommendation to supplement Jason’s application.
Jason also credits his Yale mentor, chemistry professor David Spiegel, for reaching the Intel finals.
“Of course there were scientific speed bumps” along the way, Jason says — for example, data that did not fit his hypothesis.
The biggest obstacle, though, was “the stigma that statistical analyses of data is not ‘real science,'” he says. All of his work that 1st summer at Yale was done on computers using advanced statistics — but even judges looked down on his work.
They felt that “because it wasn’t lab work on real live animals, it wasn’t significant,” Jason says. State science fair judges told him condescendingly, “This is a good starting point.”
Jason calls that “a good experience. I learned it was important to keep plugging away at what I knew was ‘real,” even when all those around me couldn’t see the value in my work.”
In preparation for DC, Jason is reading scientific journals. He’ll have to show the judges he is broadly excellent in a variety of areas, so he is “brushing up on burgeoning fields, and the ever-changing world of science.”
Jason is polished in areas far beyond math and science. Sure, he’s taken AP courses in chemistry, biology, physics, statistics, multivariable calculus and environment — but he’s loved AP courses in English Literature and economics too.
He is co-president of Staples’ debate team (and, with his partner, took 3rd place at last year’s Harvard National Tournament).
He is co-captain of the engineering team, where he finds enough time to help build a fully electric car that will be shown at this year’s Ecofest.
Jason is co-president of Staples’ Stock Investment Club — and, oh yes, youth chairman of the Westport Youth Commission, whose major projects include getting a community movie theater in town, and giving internet safety presentations to middle schoolers.
Jason was accepted at Yale in December, and will hear soon from a couple of other schools. (“06880” has no idea what they’re waiting for.)
“I just want to find a place that fits me best as a person,” Jason says. “But I know wherever I go it was what I learned at Staples that got me there, so I’m very thankful.”
In college he hopes to continue conducting biological chemistry research, and major in chemistry.
Here’s hoping he does it with an Intel Science Search gold medal sitting somewhere on his crowded desk.