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'She's off the charts': Sask. Grade 9 student says her mom's cancer diagnosis stoked her passion for research

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A Saskatoon high school student brought home some hardware from a national science competition, and she’s just getting warmed up.

Kathy Han is not just any Grade 9 student. Her knowledge of biology is well above average, which you may be able to tell from the topic of her winning science fair project.

“I designed biomimetic nano vesicles that can basically accelerate T cell activation and prime them to kill cancer cells,” Han told CTV News.

She won four national awards for that project.

Keep in mind — students don’t usually study high level biology until Grade 12, according to teacher Dale Harvey.

“Then she told me about her project and that’s when you truly get blown away at how bright she is and her scientific terminology and literacy when she starts to talk about her project,” Harvey says.

The fact that Han has reached out to PhD researchers to collaborate on the project is extraordinary, says Harvey, who has taught science for 25 years.

“You forget who you’re talking to, that you’re talking to a Grade 9 student with such a bright mind, and can just dive into this topic with such passion,” he says.

Han says her main passion used to be zoology — then her mom found out she had a tumour in her breast.

Kathy says her mom's cancer diagnosis changed the direction of her life. (Courtesy: Kathy Han)

“It was a game changer for me, I guess you can say it really changed the course of the direction of, you know, where my passion lies.”

She’s been collaborating with scientists who have expressed interest in looking at her cancer research more, but up next on the agenda for this 14-year-old science super star is an international competition.

“I was qualified to go the Taiwan international science fair.”

When she heads there in January, her teacher and fellow students will be watching closely and cheering loudly.

“She’s off the charts in terms of her uniqueness and humility,” Harvey said. 

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