Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old kid from Maryland, just won the world's largest high school science competition by creating a new test for pancreatic cancer, one of the nastiest and most lethal forms of the disease.
According to various news reports, the winning submission at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is "28 times cheaper" than existing tests and far, far more accurate. Andraka received $75,000 for his efforts, and he's applied for a patent as well. That will probably earn him far more in the years to come.
This comes on the heels of another teen wunderkind. In December, Angela Zhang, 17, won the Siemens Science Competition for inventing a new way of finding and attacking cancer cells. Some people think it might actually lead to a cure for cancer some day.
Zhang and Andraka can probably spend the rest of their high school careers playing video games in the basement, given that their college search is going to be pretty stress-free from here on out.
But that's the real world for you. Impressive kids -- or grown-ups -- invent fantastic things, potentially benefitting millions of people, if not all of mankind. The inventors are rewarded, consumers benefit, and the economy grows. Woo-hoo!
Of course, the real world isn't the world many people imagine it to be. In the Hollywood version of this tale, Zhang would have disappeared when rumors of her invention hit the boardrooms and star chambers of Big Pharma. Bruce Willis would have to come out of retirement as the rogue agent willing to put his life on the line to keep Andraka safe from the goon-squad ninjas of Bristol-Myers Squibb or the wet work teams from Pfizer.
After all, cures and cheaper tests hurt the bottom line of those evil corporations, and we all know profit is all they care about. I mean, haven't you read or seen "The Constant Gardener," the John le Carré book and movie about evil corporations testing drugs on Africans and offing the whistle-blowers at every turn?
That's what corporations do, right? At least that's what my kid is taught. In "Beethoven," the evil munitions industry shoots Saint Bernards to test bullets. In "The Lorax," businesses hate trees. In "The Muppets," they hate Muppets (and love oil). I think that in nearly every movie involving cute woodland creatures ("Furry Vengeance," "Yogi Bear," et al.), businesses are always the bad guys.