As a child of the 80s who ran around the neighborhood all summer long with nary a spot of sunscreen applied, I am very aware of the possibility of skin cancer on my body as I get older. Gen X-ers like me definitely need to start yearly check-ups to look for skin cancer if we haven’t already. However I can tell you that my teenagers, who have been diligently slathered with sunscreen from an early age, aren’t thinking about skin cancer at all. So I was surprised when I read about a teen who was not only thinking about it – but thinking about how to fight it!
14-year-old Heman Bekele, the teen I read about, is the current winner of the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge for inventing a bar soap that fights melanoma. If you’re like me, you might have to read that sentence twice, because it seems unbelievable! However, it’s totally true. Heman, who moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia when he was 4, thought back to his childhood when he was trying to decide on a project to enter the competition with. He remembered the many people he saw constantly working long hours in the hot sun, and wondered how many of them would develop skin cancer.
He decided to not only try and invent a product that would treat skin cancer, but also invent a product that everyone could actually use and implement themselves. “I wanted to make my idea something that not only was great in terms of science but also could be accessible to as many people as possible,” he told the Washington Post. To that end, Bekele’s cancer-fighting soap is not overly expensive, coming in at about fifty cents per bar. As soap is also a product that everyone is familiar with, he hopes that it will make people more likely to use this kind of treatment. “No matter where you live, I think you know and trust soap in comparison to other medicinal products,” he said.