Science Scope

Video: Intel winners show off tin particles experiment for cancer treatment

Posting in Cancer

I interviewed the winners from the 2011 Intel Science and Engineering Fair. While the two California high school students have since gone to college, I asked them to explain their experiment at The Compass Summit in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES - College freshman Matthew Feddersen and Blake Marggraff have known each other since fifth grade. During their senior year in high school, Feddersen and Marggraff decided turn their backyard science hobby into a real, science project.

Their knack for mixing chemicals together paid off. Last May, the two students won $75,000 at the 2011 Intel Science and Engineering Fair for developing a potentially effective and cheaper way of treating cancer, using tin metal, placed near a tumor before radiation therapy.

Since then, the pair have parted ways to attend college, but the California natives briefly reunited at The Compass Summit in Los Angeles last week. I asked them to demo their science project:

In the video, the students demo the unit they used to simulate treatment of cancer cells. The key to the experiment was using small tin particles placed near or in a tumor to help scatter X-rays when treating cancer. After reading an article about the damaging effects of secondary radiation, the California boys eventually came across the idea of putting some inert metal in a solid tumor.

For about 60 cents per tumor, they could increase the treatment efficacy by 20 percent.

Marggraff said don't be afraid to fail. Have that burning desire to understand.

During middle school and high school years, the two have done plenty of hair-raising experiments in their backyard. This usually meant ordering chemicals off of eBay for experiments. Though sometimes, it occasionally ended in burning off arm hairs. But safety comes first. Marggraff insisted that they have to understand the chemistry of the substances they use them in experiments.

"You're going to fail, accept it, and learn from it as much as you can. Failure was part of our research. We had to go through [many] iterations of our project. Each time, we changed something so dramatically that it wasn't even the same. Failure is the best way to learn and it's more exciting when you get something right," he said.

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure