We are pleased to announce that a team of Fairmont Prep juniors — Michelle Chang and Ethan Idnani — was selected as one of six high school finalists in the 29th annual ExploraVision program! Sponsored by Toshiba and the National Science Teaching Association, ExploraVision is the largest national K-12 science competition designed to build problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills. Michelle and Ethan’s project focused on developing a possible mechanism for a new treatment for pancreatic cancer by engineering a liposome that could reduce side effects and lower the probability of relapse. As regional winners, the Huskies each received a Chromebook and will now advance to the national phase of the competition, where they have a chance to win $10,000 in US savings bonds.

“Michelle and Ethan exemplify what can happen when intellectually curious, hardworking students are paired with world-class instruction and curriculum,” said Carolyn Lucia, Head of School at Fairmont Prep and Director of Education for Fairmont Schools. “We’re proud that our students take advantage of the exceptional STEM opportunities at the Prep, go on to lead in colleges, and then make significant contributions in the science field.”

The classmates are members of Fairmont Prep’s Advanced Science and Engineering Program (ASEP), a specialty program designed to prepare motivated students for success as science majors at highly regarded colleges and universities. According to Jaya Leslie, Director of ASEP, College Board and the University of California have recognized courses in the program as “exemplary and innovative.” Students learn, design, and carry out experiments in the Prep’s fully-equipped laboratory, which houses a PCR thermocycler, gel electrophoresis, and other equipment usually found only in university labs.

The ExploraVision competition is not the first time Michelle and Ethan have teamed up to leverage their collective ingenuity and science literacy. Their collaboration actually dates back to middle school, when both attended Fairmont’s Historic Anaheim Campus.

The American Cancer society estimates that 60,430 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. In the team’s project proposal, they explain: “Traditional treatments are too little, too late. To save lives and prevent future deaths, we propose Lykosa: a biosynthetic, liposomal construct that selectively targets and attacks pancreatic cancer cells by binding to tumor-specific proteins, including apoptosis. By engineering a liposome that can reduce side effects and greatly lower the probability of relapse, Lykosa is a method for personalized, targeted, tissue specific drug delivery.”

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with no effective treatment,” said Michelle. “In spite of only accounting for 3% of all major cancers, it is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, with a five-year mortality rate of 90%.” Ethan added, “Although neither one of us has had a personal experience with pancreatic cancer, we received many emails from people — including some of our teachers — who have. They were really touched that we were researching the disease because they’ve lost loved ones to it.”


“This 29th year of the ExploraVision program saw tremendous challenges for schools, teachers and students around the world, said Ayumi Wada, Chairwoman & CEO, Toshiba America, Inc. “This year’s achievements in critical and creative thinking are made even more impressive by the challenges many have overcome in navigating education during COVID-19. We applaud our winners and all our entrants for their resilience as well as their ideas for new technologies and smart solutions that improve and enhance our lives and communities.”

ExploraVision participants were invited to consider the future and imagine a technology that might exist 20 years from now. Using real scientific research, students outlined methods to plan and test their ideas. In addition to Michelle and Ethan’s proposal for a possible mechanism for a new treatment, other regional winners proposed innovative ideas ranging from technology toothbrushes to a novel and more cost-effective approach to launch space rockets using reusable electromagnetic repulsion systems.

Team Fairmont, along with the other five high school finalists, now advances to the national level, where they will be asked to build webpages and create short videos to communicate and exhibit their ideas to the public.

Impressed by Michelle and Ethan’s accomplishment? So are we! Feel free to drop them a note below.