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Two Young Inventors: Heman Bekele and Vivien He

Asselin Charles

Today, in this section, we are highlighting two inspiring stories. The first is about Heman Bekele, a 14-year-old Ethiopian-American middle school student who has invented a skin cancer fighting soap and was named “America’s top young scientist.” The second story is about Vivien He, a California junior high school student who has invented a cheap earthquake warning device, a gadget that can save lives in earthquake prone parts of the world.  

These two young inventors have done what inventors are supposed to do: think about a concrete problem and find an innovative solution for it. Needless to say that the culture in which they live and the school system in which they are educated encourage innovation and nurture inventiveness. 

As Lawrence Harrison argues in Who Prospers: How Cultural Values Shape Economic and Political Success (1992), one of the key factors of progress in a society is an openness to innovation and a spirit of invention. Obviously, such a factor is sorely absent from Haitian society in general. It is particularly absent from the country’s schools, which favor rote memorization and mastery of discourse over direct engagement with the world and mastery of matter. Regrettably, Haitian schools are not designed to produce the inventors and innovators whose creations would spur economic, social, and political progress. 

We hope the example of these two young inventors, Heman Bekele and Vivien He, will inspire young Haitians in particular and give pause to Haitian educators who wish to format the young minds of the country in different ways by encouraging Haitian students to exercise their curiosity more broadly and use their imagination more freely. This way lies the invention of concrete and actionable solutions to some of the many problems that impede material and social progress.  And to achieve this change in educational and cultural orientation, the most important factors are an open mind, imagination, the drive to find answers, and the will to apply the answers. After all, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), the German-Czech biologist who discovered many of the basic laws of heredity (Mendelian inheritance) merely planted peas, observed, and drew conclusions. 

Bonne lecture!

To see… to read… to listen… on Heman Bekele 

He developed a cancer-fighting soap — while in middle school

The Virginia teen was named top young scientist in an annual nationwide competition

By Praveena Somasundaram

Ethiopian-born Virginia teen honored for inventing potential skin cancer-treating soap

Heman Bekele created the soap when he was in middle school.

Heman Bekele, The 14-Year-Old Behind Skin Cancer Treating Soap, Has Been Named ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’

By Samantha Dorisca

To see… to read… to listen… on Vivien He 

Regeneron STS 2022 – Vivien He

By Society for Science

Development of Qube: A Low-Cost Internet of Things Device for On Site and Regional Earthquake Warning 

Vivien HE

High school junior’s consumer seismometer delivers low-cost earthquake early warning


2022 Davidson Fellows Laureate – Vivien He


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