In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 6, 2014

Taking on the world’s challenges, at age 14

By Elizabeth Harty

AustinMcCoy300We don't know what you were doing at age 14, but if you're like us, you probably weren’t trying to solve the world's disease-detection problems. But then, we’re not Austin McCoy, a Rochester, Minn., middle school student who's making big waves with an impressive device he's been developing alongside a Mayo Clinic scientist.

It all started, McCoy writes on his website (yes, he has his own website, too), when he was in fifth grade. "My school partnered with the InSciEd Out Program, and I met a scientist named Dr. Chris Pierret," he writes. "He became my mentor and allowed me to come into his lab at Mayo Clinic, where he taught me how to extract DNA and how to analyze it using electrophoresis." (Of course.)

While the two worked side by side in the lab, Dr. Pierret began sharing experiences from trips he'd taken to India and Africa. "He told me how people were dying in third-world countries simply because technology wasn't available for rapid disease detection," McCoy writes. "I knew that I wanted to try to develop technology that could help these people."

And so he did, under the guidance of Dr. Pierret. By February 2013, McCoy had designed and built "a working thermocycler," a device that helps amplify DNA to better detect viruses. His stripped down, portable and much cheaper version of a standard lab-issue thermocycler won top honors in a national science and engineering fair in Washington, D.C., which then landed him a formal internship with Mayo Clinic. And KAAL-TV reports that Dr. Pierret recently invited McCoy and his new thermocycler to join him and others from Mayo Clinic on a trip to New Delhi, India.

McCoy helped assist with the group's teaching efforts in India, while also talking about his new invention. "I presented at institutes and laboratories," he tells KAAL. "I presented to universities and clinics, and I tried to figure out where it would be best to implement my thermocycler." And as Dr. Pierret tells the station, wherever Austin spoke, people gathered to listen. "Austin was talking to a room of about 10 graduate students. I left the room, I walked down the hall, had another meeting, and when I got back, there were 300 graduate students in the room," Dr. Pierret says.

While Austin may be taking the lead in promoting and presenting his new portable device -- which KAAL-TV reports costs "around $100" compared to $10,000 for a standard lab version -- he's quick to point out that none of it would have been possible without the help of Mayo Clinic, and specifically, Dr. Pierret. According to his website, McCoy is now working on the fourth prototype of his thermocycler, which he hopes to be able to test and make available to the rest of the world. "I'm going to sell some to just basic consumers, like in the USA, that have the money to afford it, and then I'm also going to hopefully use some of that money and get grants to implement it in places that can't afford it, like Central America, India, Ghana, etc.," he tells KAAL-TV.

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Tags: Austin McCoy, Chris Pierret, DNA, Innovation

This is a fabulous story about Austin. He truly is a great young man. Way to go Austin!! We are only one of many who are proud of you and all of your accomplishments. You will go far in life. Keep up the great work!!


Austin - this is really awesome! Congratulations on your invention and best of luck as you move this forward into the mainstream.


Amazing effort -- very inspiring! I love reading stories like these, they really change my perspective on what can be done to move science forward and benefit the world, at any stage of life. Thank you!

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