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Anna Du

Anna Du

2023 Davidson Fellow
$10,000 Scholarship

Age: 17
Hometown: Andover, MA

Science: “Developing an AI-Enhanced Protocol for Simulating Abiogenesis: Novel Nano-Structured Carbon Materials as a Templatizing Surface for Prebiotic Nucleic Acid Oligomer Formation

About Anna

My name is Anna Du, and I'm a 17-year-old high school student from Massachusetts, with a passion for science, technology, and understanding the mysteries of life.

When I was a child, I loved science fiction novels — I loved all the possibilities that were in it, and in my favorites, I adored the optimism that the main characters had to use science and technology to make the world a better place. As an almost-adult, this childhood love has manifested itself in several different ways. First and foremost, it has cultivated an interest in STEM, and in computer engineering, and specifically in artificial intelligence. I have always had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to understand how the world around me works — this, was no different from that. I am also an avid reader and writer — in particular, I find books to be an incredibly powerful medium for expressing and spreading ideas.

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"To me, being a Davidson Fellow signifies a commitment to make the world a better place. Furthermore, it represents a community of people from a wide range of backgrounds and interests, who all share the same dedication to improving the world, one step at a time."

Project Description

My project was in the field of abiogenesis, or discovering how life could have formed from an inorganic Earth. Specifically, my focus was on studying how early informational molecules that make up the basic blueprint of life, such as RNA and DNA, were created. I studied this using computer simulations to form my predictions, which were confirmed with physical experiments that were modeled based on early Earth conditions. It is my opinion that by carefully studying and understanding the beginning of life, we may very well find much-needed solutions to ensure the future of life.

Deeper Dive

My project is an exploration into how life could have formed on an early, inorganic Earth. By studying the conditions and processes that could potentially lead to the formation of life, my goal was to unlock insights into one of nature's greatest mysteries. I investigated how RNA and DNA could have formed in an early Earth environment, without the presence of the enzymes that are now used in all living organisms. My project has two phases which I used to validate my theory — a computer simulation component, and a physical experimentation component. I first used molecular dynamics to set up, and run experiments which would model early Earth conditions without any fear of contaminants, to gain a general understanding of the initial conditions that would allow for the formation of life. Then, I conducted physical experiments using the basic building blocks, that were based on the simulation output results, to validate my hypotheses.

Throughout the process of creating this project, I faced numerous challenges, of course. One such hurdle I experienced, was obtaining access to the equipment I would need to run my experiments — especially, my physical experiments, which involved potentially recreating the conditions of a deep sea vent through the use of a hydrothermal chamber, and analytical equipment such as a liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometer, which would allow me to identify what components were forming in my experimental samples, or an atomic force microscope, which would allow me to visualize the potential growth of these informational molecules. I ended up contacting numerous labs at universities and various organizations and companies, and their collective wisdom and generosity helped me find viable solutions to this problem, such as allowing me to get access to nucleosides and oligonucleotides, or advising me on how I could potentially create a first-order experimental setting at home to emulate lab conditions.

Currently, we are facing unprecedented climate crises, from global warming, to pollution and contaminants littering the world — with an increase in these worldwide problems, will come an increase in issues with health. However, a potential solution for some of these problems lies in the development of personalized immune modulated therapies for various genetic diseases. This research could potentially lead to a drug discovery and delivery method that would work for everyone all around the world, without fear of potential issues such as allergies or other forms of bio incompatibility, allowing for more people to get access to lifesaving technology. We can solve these major health issues through better, efficient, improved platforms to create a completely customized sequence for therapies to solve life-threatening disease, and take the technology designed by nature and early Earth itself, and reapply it to help humanity today.


If you could magically become fluent in any language, what would it be?


Do you have any pets? What are their names?

A german shepherd dog named Andy, a parakeet named Luci, a fish named Luna, and chickens named Eggar Allan Poe, Eggatha Christie, Cluck Norris, Hennifer Aniston, Amelia Egghart, Chickovsky, and Atilla the Hen.

What are the top three foreign countries you’d like to visit?

Norway, Germany, Singapore

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In The News

Boston – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2023 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 17-year-old Anna Du of Andover. Du won a $10,000 scholarship for her project, Developing an AI-Enhanced Protocol for Simulating Abiogenesis: Novel Nano-Structured Carbon Materials as a Templatizing Surface for Prebiotic Nucleic Acid Oligomer Formation. She is one of only 21 students across the country to be recognized as a 2023 scholarship winner.

Download the full press release here