Amy Chyao

Learning even basic chemistry is a difficult task, and teaching yourself should, theoretically, prove more difficult. But that’s just what Plano East Senior High School’s Amy Chyao did when she joined the UT Dallas NanoExplorers program in the summer of 2009.

Working under the mentorship of Dr. Kenneth Balkus, professor of chemistry, Amy created semiconducting nanoparticles that, when exposed to certain wavelengths of light, generate a highly reactive form of oxygen that proves deadly to cancer cells. Once injected, the nanoparticles could travel through the bloodstream or stay localized in tumor sites. Exposure to a targeted beam of light, like a laser, could catalyze the reaction specifically where the cancer cells are growing.

This photodynamic therapy, treating superficial skin cancers with light, is an established technique to treat skin cancers, but the particles developed by Amy may allow targeted light therapy to penetrate even deeper into the body, creating the possibility of treating a wider variety of cancers beneath the skin.

Amy’s research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is part of the Balkus Lab’s overall effort to develop novel photocatalysts.

Since joining NanoExplorers, Amy won the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in May of 2010 for her research in the Balkus Lab.

Her ISEF win allowed her the opportunity to showcase her research in Washington, D.C., at the first White House Science Fair and to meet President Barack Obama.

This was not Amy’s first visit to the White House. After competing in the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee, she was invited to meet first lady Laura Bush.

Amy is no stranger to UT Dallas: She also has participated in UT Dallas’ Metroplex Math Circle and AwesomeMath programs, both of which are directed Dr. Titu Andreescu, associate professor of mathematics education.

A junior at Plano East Senior High School, Amy plays cello in the school’s chamber orchestra, as well as in the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. Amy founded and currently leads the student-run organization Spell Success, which aims to inspire young students in spelling, vocabulary and public speaking.

She also participates in Learning About Science and Engineering Research, National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, UIL Math and Science, Orchestra Council, and the Spanish and environmental clubs. She is a student adviser in the Plano Youth Leadership program and a volunteer teen court attorney. Amy is currently looking at colleges and knows she wants to major in either chemistry or biology.