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Standing On The Right Side Of History: 16 Year Old Jack Andraka Is ‘The Edison Of Our Times’

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I first learned of Jack Andraka from the above photo posted on my Facebook page. It was captioned:

“This is Jack Andraka, he is 15 years old and openly gay. He’ll be sitting with Michelle Obama tonight at the State of the Union. Jack has invented an inexpensive way for early detection of pancreatic cancer.”

Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 5.5 percent, and 40,000 people die of it each year. The diagnosis is often delivered after the cancer has spread. “By the time you bring this to a physician, it’s too late,” Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explained.  “The first point of entry would have to be a cheap blood test done with a simple prick…”

Jack used ordinary inexpensive filter paper for his test strips. He bought a $50 ohmmeter at Home Depot. He and his dad built a Plexiglas testing apparatus to hold the strips while the current is read. He used a pair of his mom’s sewing needles for electrodes.

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He mailed his proposal to almost 200 researchers. Only Dr. Maitra responded. “It was a very unusual e-mail. I often don’t get e-mails like this from postdoctoral fellows, let alone high-school freshmen,” he told Abigail Tucker who wrote about the experience for Smithsonian when Jack won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award:

He decided to invite Andraka to his lab. To oversee the project, he appointed a gentle postdoctoral chemist, who took the baby-sitting assignment in stride. They expected to see Andraka for perhaps a few weeks over the summer. Instead, the young scientist worked for seven months, every day after school and often on Saturdays until after midnight, subsisting on hard-boiled eggs and Twix as his mother dozed in the car in a nearby parking garage. He labored through Thanksgiving and Christmas. He spent his 15th birthday in the lab.

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Jack’s TED Talk at TED 2013 – The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.
February 25 – March 1, 2013

No articles I could find mentioned that Jack was “openly gay.” Needing confirmation I emailed, tweeted and messaged him – no response; he was in London with his mom, the youngest speaker ever to address The Royal Society of Medicine.

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I gave it one more shot and emailed, “I’d like to do a story about you. Are you gay? Are you out?”

This time the response was immediate:

“That sounds awesome! I’m openly gay and one of my biggest hopes is that I can help inspire other LGBT youth to get involved in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.] I didn’t have many [gay] role models [in science] besides Alan Turing.”

skitched-20130323-143732Moments after it was announced that Jack Andraka, then 15,
won the Gordon E. Moore Award, May, 2012
“There are millions more of me out there…”  — Jack Andraka

Jack’s Wikipedia entry is remarkable even if you do not compute that having been born in 1997 means he is now only 16.

Jack Thomas Andraka (born in 1997) is an inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. He is the 2012 Intel Science Fair grand prize winner. Andraka was awarded the Gordon E. Moore Award for his work in developing a new method to detect pancreatic cancer.  The Gordon E. Moore Award, named in honor of the co-founder of Intel, is for $75,000. He also won other prizes in smaller individual categories for a total award of $100,500.

Jack told me that he realized he was gay when he was 11 or 12-years old — in sixth grade. But afraid “no one’s going to like me if they know,” he didn’t come out until two years later. In September when he was in eighth grade, Jack sent a text to his best friend. At his request, she contacted other friends. And unbeknown to Jack, his friends told their parents. And one of the parents called his mother.

“We have ‘minimal rules’, but nothing that stifles creativity,” Jack’s father, Steve, told Forbes:

“Basically, you can sum it up simply: treat people with respect, do your homework, be honest and try to be safe.  Having too many rules burdens down the entire family and limits thinking.” He added, ”Teach your kids that most problems in this world are really opportunities in disguise, and innovation comes from discontent.”

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And last May, after Jack — then a 15-year old freshman at North County High School — won the Grand Prize at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF,) his mother, Jane, told Joe Burris of the Baltimore Sun:

“For some reason, we’re not a super-athletic family. We don’t go to much football or baseball. Instead we have a million [science] magazines,” Jane said, “so we sit around the table and talk about how people came up with their ideas and what we would do differently.”

But at the dinner table, one September evening, the conversation turned to a different topic when Jack’s mom surprised him and the rest of the family, by asking eighth grader Jack why he hadn’t told them he was gay.

I asked Jane Andraka how she recalled that conversation and she told me:

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“After Jack told his school friends he was gay, one of the moms called me and told me there were rumors of Jack being gay. At dinner that night we talked and I mentioned that I had a phone call from a lady who said Jack was gay. Jack told us that it wasn’t a rumor and that he was telling his friends that he felt that he is gay. So my husband and I discussed this and shared that we believe that a person is born gay and that is the way he is and it’s better to be open about who you are rather than force yourself into a mold that isn’t you. We also told him that people are more than their sexuality and the important thing is to be an honest and caring person who makes the most of his potential. For instance, I don’t introduce myself as Jane the straight woman but as Jane the kayaker/anesthetist/mom. Later people can find out I’m married to a man.”

“We told Jack he should be himself and if gay is part of who he is, then he should be proud he can figure that out early so he can love all the parts that make him Jack. We also discussed how some people may not support him because he is gay but he can be a good role model for teens who are wondering if it’s OK and he can demonstrate to non-supporters that gay people can contribute to society in major ways. His brother was more surprised, but after talking to a wonderful teacher who had a gay roommate in college, he became very supportive and an advocate for gay students at his school.”

Jack told me everyone in his immediate family has encouraged him to be himself. And he added that some of his relatives, although they have no problem with Jack’s being gay, think he should keep it a secret because if word gets out it might hurt his career. But Jack disagrees. He told me, “In science you [LGBT youth] shouldn’t hide who you are. What matters in science are your ideas and the quality of your work. It is important to be true to yourself.”

Untitled 2I wondered if being the smartest kid in the classroom had caused him any grief. “I didn’t get made fun of going to the cancer research lab every single Friday night and during my breaks,” said Jack. “I was actually celebrated for doing that. People were actually fascinated that I was doing this research. That was what was super-cool about this entire experience.” And being openly gay hasn’t been a problem either for Jack at his school which hosts a Gay Straight Alliance. Out of a student body of 2400, it only has five members; Jack isn’t one of them. “None of my friends are members so I haven’t joined.”

Jack told me how excited he was to be sitting next to Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook at the State of the Union address. “You know he’s gay?” I asked. “did you talk about it?” No, ” Jack replied. ” We talked about pancreatic cancer. He had a friend [Steve Jobs] who died of it.”

If reading this makes you wonder as I did how Luke, Jack’s brother, deals with Jack’s achievements, not to worry. Luke was the fourth-place national winner of the Society for Science & the Public Middle School Science Competition, winner of an MIT Think Award, twice an ISEF finalist and winner of its $96,000 Sierra Nevada Scholarship for his method of treating acid mine drainage. Now a senior in high school, he’s been accepted by Virginia Tech in their engineering program.

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Jack and Luke working on a project at at North County High School

And if you’re concerned that the proverb, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” applies to this Jack, forget it. Jack kayaks, he is a member of the National Junior Wildwater Kayak team, likes to watch Glee, plays with his dog, folds origami, has read all the Harry Potter books at least five times — J.K. Rowling is his favorite author — and was dating someone for a while, but they broke up in February.

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An Andraka family outing

Dr. Maitra told the Baltimore Sun, “Keep that last name in mind. You’re going to read about him a lot in the years to come, What I tell my lab is, ‘Think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb.’ This kid is the Edison of our times. There are going to be a lot of light bulbs coming from him.”

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Steve, Jack, Luke and Jane Andraka – a family Standing firmly on the Right Side of History 

 

You can follow Jack on Twitter and on Facebook.

All images are courtesy of the Andraka family.

 

 Stuart Wilber believes that living life openly as a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Allied person is the most powerful kind of activism. Shortly after meeting his husband in Chicago in 1977, he opened a gallery named In a Plain Brown Wrapper, where he exhibited cutting edge work by leading artists; art that dealt with sexuality and gender identification. In the late 1980’s when they moved to San Clemente, CA in Orange County, life as an openly gay couple became a political act. They moved to Seattle 16 years ago and married in Canada a few weeks after British Columbia legalized same-​sex marriage. When Marriage Equality became the law in Washington State, they married on the first possible day permitted which was the first day of their 36th year together. Although legally married in some states and some countries, they are still treated as second class citizens by the federal government. Equality continues to elude him. (Photo by Mathew Ryan Williams)

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COMMENTARY

Trump An ‘Enemy of the Constitution’ Declares Nicolle Wallace, Blasting Call to ‘Terminate’ Nation’s Founding Document

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MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace slammed Donald Trump as an “enemy of the Constitution” on Monday after the ex-president, over the weekend, called for the U.S. Constitution to be terminated.

Trump demanded “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” in light of his most recent – and false – claim the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

That was Saturday, on his Truth Social account.

On Monday, Trump denied having ever said it, despite the post still being up.

Wallace characterized Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution “an extraordinary statement even by the standards of a failed wannabe autocrat who plotted a coup against his own government and recently dined with white supremacists.”

READ MORE: ‘Venom’: Experts Shocked as Gorsuch Angrily Accuses Colorado of Forcing Anti-LGBTQ Baker Into ‘Re-Education Program’

“The disgraced ex-president made his contempt for our democracy as clear as ever, when he called for the United States Constitution to be ‘terminated.'”

Quoting The Washington Post, Wallace said: “Trump’s message on his Truth Social platform reiterated the baseless claims he has made since 2020, that the election was stolen, but he went further by suggesting that the country abandon one of its founding documents.”

She also played a clip of Republican Congressman Dave Joyce of Ohio from Sunday’s ABC News.

Rep. Joyce in the clip twists and turns but ultimately admits that if Trump is the GOP nominee for president in 2024 he will vote for him.

READ MORE: Anti-LGBTQ Slurs on Twitter Up Over 800% as Musk Allows Thousands of Previously Banned Users Back: Reports

“Well, again, it’s early I think there’s gonna be a lot of people in the primary I think at the end of the day, you will have — wherever the Republicans tend to pick up I will fall in behind because that’s –”

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interjected, asking,”Even if it’s Donald Trump, as he’s called for suspending the Constitution?”

“Again, I think it’s gonna be a big field. I don’t think Donald Trump’s gonna clear out the field like he did in 2016.”

“I will support whoever the Republican nominee is,” Joyce added.

“And I don’t don’t think that at this point he will be able to get there because I think there’s a lot of other good quality candidates out there.”

“He says a lot of things,” Joyce continued, refusing to denounce Trump.

“Let’s not speed past that moment,” Wallace urged. “This is exactly how Trump happened. All the Republicans in Washington and around the country said, [Trump] ‘says all sorts of stupid you know what. Dorsn’t mean he’s going to do it.'”

“He did all of it, all of it. And then some,” she chastised.

Watch below or at this link.

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'REGURGITATING RIGHT WING TALKING POINTS'

‘Venom’: Experts Shocked as Gorsuch Angrily Accuses Colorado of Forcing Anti-LGBTQ Baker Into ‘Re-Education Program’

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch appeared angry and even hostile at several points throughout Monday’s oral arguments in a case brought by a Colorado right-wing evangelical Christian website designer who is suing the state because she wants to be able to discriminate against same-sex couples who are getting married.

The case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, promises to be one of the most important of the term, and arguments extended more than two hours.

During one of the more heated moments, conservative Justice Gorsuch attacked Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson, claiming the state forced an infamous anti-LGBTQ baker who also went before the Supreme Court, winning his 2018 case in a very narrow ruling, into a “re-education program.”

RELATED: ‘What the Hell, Sam’: Justice Alito Slammed for Making ‘Joke’ About Black Children in KKK Costumes

Jack Phillips, a business owner who refused to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, citing his religious beliefs, was required to attend a class so he could become familiar with Colorado anti-discrimination law.

The Supreme Court’s ruling at the time called it, “additional remedial measures, including ‘comprehensive staff training on the Public Accommodations section'” of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.

Justice Gorsuch instead called it a “re-education program,” and slammed the state’s Solicitor General, Eric Olson, with it on Monday.

“Mr. Phillips did go through a re-education training program, pursuant to Colorado law, did he not, Mr. Olson?” Gorsuch asked the solicitor general.

“He went through a process that ensured he was familiar –” Olson responded, before Gorsuch cut him off.

“It was a re-education program, right?” the justice blared.

“It was not a ‘re-education program,'” Olson replied, holding his ground.

“What do you call it?” Gorsuch, dissatisfied, pressed.

“It was a process to make sure he was familiar with Colorado law,” Olson explained.

“Some might be excused for calling that a ‘re-education program,’” Gorsuch snapped.

“I strongly disagree, Justice Gorsuch,” Olson said, defending the law.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who provided the clip above, warns: “It does not bode well for the future of civil rights law that Gorsuch believes a state imposes ‘reeducation training’ on employers when it reminds them how to comply with nondiscrimination rules.”

RELATED: 5 Things You Need to Know About the Supreme Court Ruling in the Gay Wedding Cake Case

“Astounding that Gorsuch, A Supreme Court Justice,” tweeted Adam Cohen of Attorneys for Good Government, “Refers to Colorado giving courses on following civil rights law, As ‘reeducation training.'”

“Like being taught not to discriminate against LGBTQ is the same as being sent to a gulag for protesting communism in the Soviet Union,” he added.

Professor Elizabeth Sepper of the University of Texas at Austin School of Law says, “Justice Gorsuch describes education about antidiscrimination law and compliance as a REEDUCATION PROGRAM. This is beyond offensive. It was a central and SOFT tool of many civil rights movements and was essential to targeting market discrimination.”

Columbia Law School’s Elizabeth Reiner Platt, the Director of The Law, Rights, and Religion Project responded, “OMG Gorsuch repeatedly insists that a training on civil rights law is a ‘reeducation program.’ Good grief.”

Attorney Andrew L. Seidel, Vice President of Strategic Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State tweeted, “WHOA. Gorsuch asks a very hostile question about sending the bakery to ‘a re-education program.’ He spits the phrase with venom and repeats it several times. He’s regurgitating right wing talking points.”

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'INAPPROPRIATE'

‘What the Hell, Sam’: Justice Alito Slammed for Making ‘Joke’ About Black Children in KKK Costumes

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in one of the most important cases of the term, a case that will determine if the nation’s highest court will or will not allow a person citing their personal religious beliefs to openly discriminate in the marketplace against same-sex couples.

In likely the most salient and important hypothetical example, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson described in great detail a photographer wanting to re-create scenes from 1940’s Christmases with Santa Clauses and children, in sepia tones, and making them historically accurate.

She asked the attorney representing the right-wing Christian website designer who does not want to have to provide her product to same-sex couples, if under her legal theory the hypothetical photographer would have to create photos of a white Santa with Black children.

Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom‘s attorney arguing in favor of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, was forced to admit that the photographer would be able to say they would not take photos of Black children with a white Santa.

RELATED: Listen Live: SCOTUS Hears Christian Right Religion vs. LGBTQ Civil Rights Challenge

Later, Justice Samuel Alito, one of the Court’s most far-right jurists, decided to use Justice Jackson’s hypothetical analogy to make a point, and he did so by mockingly joking about Black children wearing KKK costumes.

“Justice Jackson’s example of that, the Santa in the mall who doesn’t want his picture taken with Black children,” Justice Alito began, getting the basics of the analogy incorrect.

“So if there’s a Black Santa at the other end of the mall, and he doesn’t want to have his picture taken with a child who is dressed up in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, now does that Black Santa have to do that?”

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson replied, “No, because Klu Klux Klan outfits are not protected characteristics under public accommodation laws.”

READ MORE: ‘Anathema to the Soul of Our Nation’: Trump Pilloried for Demanding ‘Termination’ of the US Constitution

“And presumably,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor interjected, “that would be the same Ku Klux Klan outfit regardless whether if the child was Black or white or any other characteristic.”

That’s when Alito decided to make a “joke,” while thousands of Americans were listening to the Court’s live proceedings.

“You do see a lot of Black children in Ku Klux Klan outfits all the time,” he said, presumably sarcastically.

He then laughed, and some viewers in the gallery joined with him.

Many on social media were outraged and offended.

“He is so inappropriate today. And offensive,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). “The Black kids in KuKluxKlan outfits? Not funny. Is this the highest Court of the most powerful country in the world? Good grief.”

Minutes later, NYU School of Law Professor of Law Melissa Murray weighed in, saying, “I’m going to need Justice Alito to stop joking about seeing ‘Black children in Ku Klux Klan costumes.'”

“Seriously, what am I listening to?” she asked, to which Ifill replied, “Just awful.”

“The joke about Black kids in KuKluxKlan outfits?” Ifill also lamented. “No Justice Alito, these ‘jokes’ are so inappropriate, no matter how many in the courtroom chuckle mindlessly.”

Columbia University Professor of Law Katherine Franke tweeted, “Justice Alito is resorting to KKK jokes. Ha ha ha. As if what’s at stake here is funny, and isn’t taking place in a context in which LGBTQ people feel like we have a target on our backs. And, ahem – Klan jokes aren’t funny under any context.”

The Rewire News Group tweeted, in all caps, “I knew Alito wouldn’t be able to resist bringing up the Ku Klux Klan,” and then: “What the hell, Sam.”

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