Freshman Zoe Weissman became the 2020 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award winner for her outstanding research in Health Advancements Oct. 21. Students that were supposed to compete in the state science fair last year had the opportunity to compete in Broadcom Masters, a competition that offers scholarships to those with superior projects and skill sets in the fields of science and math. Weissman developed a potential alternative to painkillers that were non-addictive and not biased towards men, hoping to inspire other women in science just like herself. The young scientist took home $10,000 and the title of a Broadcom finalist and winner.
“I’m still in shock that I won; I just can’t comprehend it,” Weissman said. “It was so cool and I’m so grateful for it; it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I met so many amazing people that I can now call my friends, and it was overall incredible. It took a lot of hard work, but it was definitely worth it in the end.”
Weissman, along with her fellow finalists, attended the award ceremony virtually due to the current standing of the pandemic. “The ceremony was actually a livestream. It was broadcast from a science museum, but we were all at home. They talked about our projects, but they also had a few scientists come in, and then they announced the awards. It was very well put together, and they made it seem just like any traditional award ceremony.”
Additionally, Weissman mentioned that the journey to the final state of her project wasn’t an easy one. “I wanted to find an alternative to painkillers that was non-addictive, but most importantly, unbiased,” she said. “For some reason, researchers don’t like to use women in their trials, so there tends to be a lot of bias against women in medicine; a lot of drugs aren’t even used on them. So I tested the effects of my creation on both female and male flies to find the one that worked the best.”
Weissman also made sure to note that she most certainly didn’t win on her own. Her biggest mentor, Mrs. Leya Joykutty, head of the Department of Sciences, was there every step of the way.
“My ultimate mentor was Mrs. Joykutty. Without her, I wouldn’t even be able to do my project. She was so helpful, along with many other science teachers and staff working in the lab,” she said.
To future scientists, Weissman encourages them to start early and not be afraid of the outcome. “For people who’d like to apply to competitions like Broadcom, I think the reason I did so well is because I didn’t really worry about it. If you truly know your project well, then it really shouldn’t be hard to show how passionate you are about it.”
Weissman hopes to incorporate her activism regarding gun violence into future science projects, and she is extremely excited for what’s to come in her scientific journey through the rest of high school.