Janie Kim was in the 8th grade at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Scripps Ranch when she had a good idea for a science fair project. She wanted to know how effective are contact lens solutions at killing the bacteria that commonly cause eye infections and which of the many commercially available contact lens solutions is the best.
“I wear contacts and had gotten eye infections from not cleaning them properly so I decided to make it my project,” said Janie.
As a part of the assignment, her then science teacher also assigned them to find a professional mentor.
“I googled ‘BioMed professor San Diego’ and I found Dr. Victor Nizet and then I just emailed him,” she said.
Dr. Nizet is one the world’s leading specialists in infectious diseases and heads his own lab at UC San Diego.
“She had detailed a whole research plan and it was very accurate. I was extremely impressed,” Dr. Nizet said.
Dr. Nizet invited Janie to test her ideas in his lab, where they already grow and study relevant bacteria such as Pseudomonas and MRSA. But they first they had to wait until Janie turned 14 before she was legally allowed to work in the lab.
In the end, Janie and her mentors in the Nizet lab made a surprising finding. Not only did they determine which of the leading major brand-name contact lens solution is the best at killing bacteria, they looked at the individual components of contact lens solution and came up with a unique combination that leading experts say is five times better at killing bacteria than anything currently on the market.
The team recently published their findings in a scientific journal published by the American Society for Microbiology – an unusual accomplishment for a high school student.
Now 17 and a junior at Scripps Ranch High School, Janie is setting her sights on Stanford University, where she hopes to be a Biology and Creative Writing major.