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Scholarship Winner

DNA Diagnostics Center congratulates Wing Sum Law on submitting the winning essay for 2013-2014 "Next Big Science Thinker" $5,000 College Merit Scholarship Contest.


About Wing Sum Law

Wing-Sum Law is a senior at Shorewood High School, and will be joining the engineering school at Columbia University in the fall. Outside of school, her passion is dance. She also enjoys drawing, singing, and designing web pages. She spent the last summer interning in a lab at Boston University, and her long term goals include improving the world around her through science. She would like to thank all of her friends and family for all of the support they've given her.

Her Winning Essay

In a 500-800 word essay, answer the following: Where do you think the study of DNA is going to be in the next five, ten and twenty years? How do you see yourself playing a role in this evolution?

It is awe-inspiring, the way a few simple molecules that take the form of a double helix can essentially dictate the elaborate network that is life. Because DNA creates such a diverse array of characteristics, millions of labs all around the world will have taken the study of DNA in thousands of different directions in the next five, ten, and twenty years. There will be labs studying what factors into mutations, which sections of certain genomes code and do not code, and of course, the proteins created using the information stored in DNA.

Something holds us back. In order to really pursue all of these different avenues of study, we need quicker and more accurate means to sequence DNA. How can we properly study the effects of DNA if we lack fluency in its language? Yes, we have ways to sequence it now, but I am eager to work in an area where we create computer programs to sequence DNA in the most efficient way possible, quickly moving from obtaining, to reading, to understanding what messages a certain piece has coded.

While I have always been fascinated by the world around me, my love affair with exploring it began in earnest when I began learning about life at the molecular level. This segment of my life really begins with a video about quorum sensing delivered by Bonnie Bassler on TED. She was very lively and excited about engineering the molecules that bacteria use to communicate with each other, and this inspired me, because I had never previously imagined that engineering could exist on such a level. I was so inspired, in fact, that a little over a year later (this last summer) I spent six weeks interning in a lab.

During my stay, I did a little of everything, from washing test tubes to running agarose gels. I remember sitting in front of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine and being amazed at how a set change of temperatures could produce many, many copies of a segment of DNA. I also remember being told that we had to send things elsewhere to get sequenced. Shouldn't that technology be readily available in every lab?

This is what I plan to help with in the immediate future: the creation of cheaper, faster, and more accurate means of sequencing DNA. For the more distant future, though, my dreams are much bigger. While I'm learning how to fluently read and understand DNA, I might as well learn how to write it as well. I'm not just talking about synthesizing oligonucleotides; I want to use the language of DNA to store our own information. Researchers at Harvard have stored 700 terabytes of information in one gram of DNA. One day we could have cameras that store data in DNA as they record, and people carrying information around in their skin. With that kind of storage power, suddenly the possibility of storing an entire human life's worth of memories is very feasible, maybe even the memories of several humans.

Mark Twain claims that nature ceases to amaze us the more we understand its intricacies. In his essay "Two Ways of Seeing a River," he describes his original awe of the beauty of the river, but by the end he has lost the romance of the scenery and can now only perceive what is useful for him. He all but outright states that in learning science and embracing technology, we lose the poetry of the world that surrounds us.

While Twain was brilliant, I strongly disagree with him here. If anything, the more I learn about the vast complexity of life, the more I am blown away. The romance has not died for me; it has only grown stronger. In learning more about life, we have learned more about how to save it, and in creating new technologies, we have advanced our understanding of life. It looks as though we can continue learning indefinitely from that special double helix inside our cells. Indeed, there is no greater poetry than the idea that a whole universe's worth of information can be stored in the handful of molecules that write the language of life.


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