14-year-old Heman Bekele wins “America’s Top Young Scientist” for inventing a soap that treats skin cancer

BY Ben Ebuka Oji October 28, 2023 3:27 PM EDT
Heman Bekele
Heman Bekele. Credit: 3M

14-year-old Heman Bekele, a 9th grader at W.T. Woodson High School in Annandale, Virginia, has won the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the nation’s premier middle school science competition organized by 3M and Discovery Education.

Heman Bekele distinguished himself by developing Melanoma Treating Soap (MTS), a compound-based solution for treating skin cancer, which enabled him to secure the $25,000 cash prize and earn the esteemed title of ‘America’s Top Young Scientist.’

Middle school students participated in the 16th annual competition by submitting a video showcasing their innovative solution to a common problem in their community and the world, along with the science behind their solution. The judges, comprising distinguished individuals such as 3M scientists and education leaders from various regions, picked 10 finalists who worked with 3M scientists during a summer mentorship program to develop a prototype of their invention that addresses the identified problem.

The Top 10 Finalists
The Top 10 Finalists. Credit: 3M

The top 10 finalists were assessed based on their ability to navigate through interactive challenges and showcase their ingenuity and innovative thinking, application of STEM principles, passion and research, presentation skills, and capacity to motivate others.

The top 10 finalists of the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge were selected from public and private schools across the United States. Heman Bekele, who emerged as the national winner, engaged in a rigorous competition with the remaining nine finalists over four months. He secured his win during the final Challenge events held at the esteemed 3M global headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, on October 9 and 10.

Heman Bekele & Deborah Isabelle
Heman Bekele & Deborah Isabelle. Credit: 3M

Responding to why he entered the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Heman Bekele said, “the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is an excellent opportunity for young minds to make a difference and leave a positive impact on the world. Personally, I applied for the 3M Young Scientist Challenge because I believe that young minds can make a positive impact on the world. I have always been interested in biology and technology, and this challenge gave me the perfect platform to showcase my ideas. The opportunity to work with 3M mentors and show my project to a panel of judges was an exciting prospect. I am passionate about finding sustainable solutions to global problems, and I hope to inspire others to do the same.”

Heman Bekele & a co-finalist
Heman Bekele & a co-finalist. Credit: 3M

Picturing his future career and aspirations, Heman Bekele said, “In 15 years I hope to be a successful electrical engineer who has contributed significantly to the industry. I envision myself leading a team of professionals in the development of innovative electrical systems that will shape the future of technology. Alongside my professional success, I hope to have a fulfilling personal life with a loving family and a strong network of friends. I also hope to have given back to my community by mentoring aspiring engineers and supporting initiatives that promote STEM education. Ultimately, in 15 years, I hope to have made a positive impact on the world through my work and personal endeavors.”

Heman Bekele & Deborah Isabelle
Heman Bekele & Deborah Isabelle. Credit: 3M

Throughout the science challenge, Heman Bekele was mentored by Deborah Isabelle, a Product Engineering Specialist, with a focus on Abrasives. As a product engineer at 3M, Deborah safeguards and expands the abrasives portfolio in the Automotive Aftermarket Division.

The Significance of Heman Bekele’s Innovation

The United States grapples with a significant burden of skin cancer, with an annual treatment cost averaging $8.1 billion. Heman Bekele’s groundbreaking innovation, a cost-effective soap solution, holds the promise of enhancing skin cancer outcomes. His vision for the next five years includes further refining this pioneering solution and establishing a non-profit organization dedicated to delivering this affordable remedy to underserved communities.

Heman Bekele & a co-finalist
Heman Bekele & a co-finalist. Credit: 3M

Expressing his delight about the impact of the science challenge, John Banovetz, the executive vice president, chief technology officer, and environmental responsibility at 3M said, “The need for scientists and innovators to develop solutions for the world’s biggest challenges has never been greater. This year’s Young Scientist Challenge finalists have demonstrated the skills required to reimagine what’s possible—intelligence, curiosity, collaboration, and resilience.”

 “The magnitude and complexity of the issues these young minds are working to solve is inspiring. Congratulations to this year’s finalists—we can’t wait to see what you do next!”