Whiz Kid: Eric Jang

This Brown University-bound Cupertino High senior placed third in the Amgen Bay Area 2012 BioGENEius Challenge for creating an app—on a shoestring budget—that aids in the discovery of new pharmaceuticals.

Each week Cupertino Patch shines a spotlight on one Whiz Kid of the Week.  Maybe it’s the kid who cuts the lawn every week for the elderly couple down the street. Or it’s the academic marvel whose nickname is Einstein. Or it's the one who is first in line to volunteer at the local charity.

Through your nominations, our committee narrows the pool to just one per week and presents to you the Whiz Kid of the Week.

Here is this week’s whizzy wonder:

Who: Eric Jang

Age: 18

School: Cupertino High School

Grade: Soon-to-be-freshman at Brown University

Why He's Whizzy:

Jang has been competing in regional and statewide science fairs since his freshman year at Cupertino High but his most recent accomplishment was placing third at the Amgen Bay Area 2012 BioGENEius Challenge.

His project, titled "Massively Parallel Virtual Screening Using Facebook," is an app that utilizes computer downtime—like time spent on Facebook—to run simulations of interactions between drugs and cells that, if they work, can be applied to the real world development of pharmaceuticals that aid in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, AIDS and telomere maintenance.

While his app, called Social Docking, works to help produce drugs that will change the face of modern medicine while we're checking out cat memes, Jang's inspiration for the project was to see if he could conduct research on a limited—read high school—budget.

"The primary motivation for this was to have dirt-cheap supercomputing," he explained. "It's very difficult for students and independent researchers to have the resources to do research, so I started with the goal in mind to make it zero cost."

The app, available online, doesn't cost a penny and doesn't require download time. All users have to do is click on the "Start" button and the computations start rolling.

"To my knowledge, this is the only virtual screening app that runs through browsers," Jang said.

Social Docking launched in early January and within two weeks had 700 users.

Although Jang wrote the code during two December 2011 weeks, four months of planning went into creating the app. As part of his research, Jang talked to experts in the field of cloud computing. While they were encouraging, they were doubtful Jang would be successful.

With his third place finish and plans to speed up, power up and "take the app to the next level," Jang is proving these disbelievers wrong.

"I want to tell people who want to try something like this that they shouldn't be afraid if people tell you it will be difficult or impossible to do," he said. "I'm really proud of this project in particular because it helped me to rethink what's possible with the resources of a high school student."

The former Prospector editor said he plans to study computer science at Brown and thinks he'll go into robotics. In the more immediate future, if either or second place BioGENEius finishers can't attend the national challenge June 17, Jang will step in as their replacement.

Displaying trademark humility, Jang downplayed his third place finish.

"Third place is nice, but it doesn't really mean anything," he said. "It is really more a chance for people to show off their research. There were a lot of really good projects out there."

Anne Ernst June 14, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Impressive Eric! Congratulations!


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