Meet Grace Sun: Teen Earns $75000 Prize For Biomedical Implants Breakthrough

Grace Sun, 16, from Kentucky, secured $75,000 for her groundbreaking research on enhancing organic electrochemical transistors (OECTs), aiming to revolutionize biomedical implants and early disease detection.

Aashi Aren
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Chris Ayers/Society for Science,Grace Sun holds an OECT device that helped her win the ISEF science fair.

Grace Sun, 16, of Kentucky, received $75,000 for her biomedical device research project. At the ISEF, known as the "granddaddy of all science fairs," she won first place. Her research on organic electrical devices seeks to improve the efficacy and safety of medical implants. While her peers are busy pursuing their driver's licenses, Grace has been deeply engrossed in a groundbreaking project aimed at revolutionizing biomedicine.


Innovative Breakthrough By Grace Sun

16-year-old Wins $75,000 for Her Award-Winning Discovery That Could Help  Revolutionize Biomedical Implants

Sun's research revolved around enhancing the effectiveness of organic electrochemical transistors, or OECTs. equivalent to other silicon-based devices, OECTs are flexible and soft, and they possess the potential to be more advanced implants that may be employed in the heart or brain. Sensitive OECTs may detect, in sweat, blood, or other transporters, proteins or nucleic acids linked to early-stage diseases. 

They provide previously unseen techniques to track markers such as blood alcohol content, white blood cell count, or blood glucose, which may be significant for those with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, or epilepsy. Moreover, they could take the place of more invasive devices like the pacemaker mentioned previously. At the awards ceremony, amidst the glittering confetti and jubilant atmosphere, Grace's disbelief was palpable as she clutched her trophy. Despite her initial astonishment, Grace exuded a calm and authoritative demeanour while discussing her research on organic electrochemical transistors (OECTs).

Improving OECTs

OECTs, although promising, currently face performance challenges, particularly concerning their stability within the body. To enhance the gadgets' functionality and move them closer to the market, Sun developed a novel method. Sun experimented with "doping" the OECTs—introducing chemical impurities to observe how they altered the device's electrical properties—using a variety of organic salts in the study that won the five-figure prize.


She discovered that a particular salt, tetrabutylammonium chloride, was particularly useful as it enhanced the device's sensitivity, signal-to-noise ratio, switching speed, and amplification capabilities. These attributes are critical because they improve overall performance, which may eventually contribute to the development of biomedical devices that may identify early indicators of disease in the biochemical composition of your body. Sun tested a salt that increased switching speed by 77% and amplification performance by 97%.

Beyond her groundbreaking research, Grace's remarkable achievement at ISEF underscores the significance of her research in the scientific community. The Society for Science hosts ISEF, the largest pre-college STEM competition in the world. Christopher Gould, the judging chair, compared it to the Olympics of science or the "granddaddy of all science fairs."Almost two thousand students travelled to Los Angeles for the week to attend lectures, socialize, and present their research to judges. 

This year's $9 million prize pool was the highest the tournament has ever given out. However, Sun won the $75,000 George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award, which was the largest prize. Regarding Sun's study, Ian Jandrell, a co-chair of the ISEF materials science category's judging panel, told BI, "This was our number one project, without a doubt." He supervised hours of deliberation among the judges in materials science. To bring the OECTs out to the public and have an immediate impact on actual people, Sun says she is aiming to develop them further and hopes to launch a business soon.

ISEF Biomedical Research Grace Sun