The NIDA Blog Team
June 12 2017
Photo from Society for Science & the Public. Pictured at the 2017 Addiction Science Awards (L-R): NIDA’s Carol Krause, 2nd Place Winner Nkima Stephenson, 1st place winner Anusha Zaman, and 3rd Place Winner Kashfia Rahman

UPDATE: The 2019 Addiction Science Award winners developed a tamper-resistant opioid, explored the gene/addiction connection, and identified risky teen behaviors. Read more

NIDA’s Addiction Science Awards honor outstanding teen scientists every year. The winners are chosen from nearly 1,800 students from 75 countries at the world's largest science competition for high school students: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The fair was held in Los Angeles this year. 

Genes rule

The two top awards went to students with projects on epigenetics, the study of how the environment influences and changes the ways our genes express themselves. The first-place winner was sophomore Anusha Zaman from Louisiana. Her project focused on the effects of smoking hookah by studying what happens when cells inside the mouth are exposed to hookah smoke. Anusha found that the cells responded to the smoke in ways that are related to inflammation and cancer. Her project suggests that hookah smoke may be as damaging to health as cigarette smoke. 

The second-place project, from senior Nkima Stephenson of Georgia, could help reveal how a person’s genetics and environment can affect their chances of developing drug problems. Nkima compared data on genes that were directly related to alcohol exposure, with data on genes primarily affected by environmental influences (as well as by alcohol exposure). Her work is now part of a gene database used by researchers around the world.

Risky business

Kashfia Rahman, a junior from South Dakota, won third place for her project on risky behaviors. She studied habituation, a process where someone’s ability to recognize risk decreases each time the person decides to participate in a dangerous behavior. Kashfia’s findings help explain why teens take risks, even when they know what they’re doing is dangerous. You might remember Kashfia from last year, when she also won an award.

Congratulations to Anusha, Nkima, and Kashfia, and all the Addiction Science Award participants!