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herman bekele

January 30, 2024

14-Year-Old Scientist Heman Bekele on His Quest to Fight Skin Cancer with Soap

Ask students: How does Bekele's invention work? Why did Bekele come up with the idea of a cancer treating soap? What challenge was he responding to?


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Heman Bekele spent the last year developing a bar of soap that could treat skin cancer. It was the winning entry at the annual 3M Young Scientist Challenge, considered one of the top science and engineering competitions for fifth through eighth graders.

For a transcript of this story, click here.

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Discussion Questions

  1. Who is Heman Bekele?
  2. What is the 3M Young Scientist Challenge?
  3. How does Bekele's invention work?
  4. Why did Bekele come up with the idea of a cancer treating soap? What challenge was he responding to?
  5. When and how did Bekele become interested in science?

Focus Questions

Bekele describes his idea for the cancer-treating soap as a "passion project." If you were going to pursue a passion project to help others such as those in your community, what would it be?

Media literacy: Why do you think PBS NewsHour chose to focus on this particular invention?

Extension Activity

Want to help solve a problem like Bekele? The first step is identifying what problems need to be solved — and there are quite a few! Sometimes it's best to start with smaller pieces of the puzzle. Bekele's soap wasn't an idea about a new kind of medication for cancer — it was a way to make cancer treatment easier and more affordable. As a class, discuss the following:

  • What are some challenges you've noticed people have in your community?
  • What are some creative ways to address those challenges?
  • What help could you seek out in learning more about the challenge or in making your solution a reality?

To further explore ways you can take on challenges and be creative, see these resources on inventing. Anyone can be an inventor!

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Classroom.

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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