Samantha Marie Marquez, 16 

Inventor and Scientist

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST

Samantha Marquez began working in university research labs when she was 12 years old. She recalls the questioning looks: "The bathroom's that way," some people would say. "Oh no, I'm supposed to be here," she had to explain.

Her first major accomplishment — in middle school — was developing a three-dimensional hollow structure made of living cells, called a celloidosome. This work led to seven patent applications and two first-place awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

A celloidosome is such a versatile structure that it could be adapted for various medical uses, Marquez says. One possibility, which she's just begun to explore, is using a celloidosome constructed of stem cells as a vehicle for delivering drugs or cells into the body — "sort of a Harry Potter's invisible cloak" for the immune system.

Last summer she assisted with research on a way to collect and trap cyanide that's released in the cooking of cassava, a tropical plant. She also speaks to students through the Virginia Latino Higher Education Network, demolishing negative stereotypes about scientists and about Hispanics.

A poised yet humble junior at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, Marquez resists the genius label. She surprises her friends by opting for mind-broadening classes such as world religions over advanced placement physics. "I don't need to be the best at everything that I do," she says. "I just need to try my best at what I do."

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