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NIDA. (2014, October 9). Award-Winning Teens Hope To Improve Lives Through Research. Retrieved from

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The NIDA Blog Team
October 9 2014
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From left to right: Carol Krause, NIDA Public Information and Liaison Branch Chief; Dr. William Dewey, Chair, Friends of NIDA; Aakash Jain; Lily Wei Lee; Dr. Nora D. Volkow, NIDA Director; Alexandra Ulmer; Sarayu Caulfield; Dr. Sheri Grabus, NIDA Press Officer.

The winning projects of NIDA’s Addiction Science Award 2014, part of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, tackled emerging topics in addiction science. While their projects impressed the judges, it is the teens’ passion and desire to help improve lives that makes them winners.

  • First Place: Lily Wei Lee, a high school senior from New York, found that e-cigarettes left significant nicotine residue on glass, vinyl floors, wood, and other household surfaces—also known as third-hand exposure. Her study was recently published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
  • Second Place: Aakash Jain, a high school senior from Arizona, used computational analysis to model the brain’s GABA(A) receptor, which researchers believe is involved in diseases such as depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and addiction.
  • Third Place: Two high school juniors, Alexandra Ulmer and Sarayu Caulfield from Oregon, found that experienced multi-taskers were better at switching tasks and ignoring distractions, but were less able to focus on one single task—all behaviors controlled by the prefrontal cortex.

Better Living Through Science

The teens’ enthusiasm for science comes from their desire to improve health by increasing what we know about our brains and bodies. Each hopes their research will someday help prevent or treat diseases related to addiction and the brain.

Lily wants to change the misconceptions around e-cigarettes. “It is incredibly important to me that adults and youth alike understand the immediate impacts that e-cigarettes could have on themselves and the people around them.”

Aakash hopes his research will improve the way other scientists research the brain using electrophysiology, which may help researchers better understand and treat brain diseases.

Alexandra and Sarayu want to show that drugs and alcohol are not the only things that teens can become addicted to. “We hope that through our research we can contribute new knowledge of media addiction and how it provides similar emotional effects as drugs and alcohol.”

What’s Next for the Winners?

Like many teens, Lily, Aakash, Alexandra, and Sarayu have college on the brain. Lily is attending CUNY Brooklyn College as a chemistry and urban sustainability major. Aakash is studying at Duke University with a double major in computer science and neuroscience. Alexandra and Sarayu are seniors in high school, and while undecided about college now, they hope research will play a role in their futures.

We wish them luck!

Tell us in comments: If you could research anything in the world, what would it be? What type of research would you like to do, and why?