About Me

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I'm a budding biologist and aspiring entrepreneur. I've wanted to cure aging since I was eight. Now, with support from Peter Thiel's 20 Under 20 program, I'll be in Silicon Valley for the next two years developing ways to commercialize anti-aging research and extend the human healthspan. We'll see where this adventure takes me, but I'll try to chronicle the journey on this blog, What a Wonderful World. It'll be a mix of real-life updates and vignettes about the wonders of science. Shoot me an email at ldeming[dot]www[at]gmail.com

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A lovely way to learn

Hi guys! A few folks have asked what it was like to grow up outside the traditional academic route - here's a quick piece written for GHF (Gifted Homeschooler's Forum) on growing up 'unschooled'. Enjoy!

When I was homeschooled, everything was magical. My parents didn’t crack open hefty tomes and lecture me on the intricacies of basic algebra. They left us to figure out basic math on our own. Instead of a dry run through tables of formulae, Dad and I would chat about the beauties of math. How intricate, spiraling, numerical patterns could—and did—save the world on a daily basis. How we were a walking, talking summation of billions of tiny biological calculators, each calculator a cell, and each cell a miniature cosmos in its own right.

My dad painted a vivid picture of the titans of science. I idolized Archimedes, Galileo, da Vinci, Faraday, Newton, Maxwell, Tesla, Pasteur, and Darwin. I couldn’t believe they were all dead, and that I would never get to meet them and hear them talk. One living scientist that I admired, Cynthia Kenyon, was working on ways to extend the human lifespan so that these great minds, and all others, could live longer and healthier lives.

When I was 12, I met Cynthia Kenyon. She opened up the world of ‘real’ science to this starry-eyed preteen. I got to work in her lab at UCSF, at a bench, planning and performing real experiments. I got to fiddle with lasers, scoop up mounds of microscopic worms, and stare mesmerized as the modified, glowing creatures writhed and wriggled around a plate.

Cynthia taught me how to decode scientific papers; jargon-stuffed screeds turned into thrillers, hunts for elusive proteins and fragmented pathways. I got to feel the elation that comes when you discover something nobody else has seen or known, the satisfaction of clicking in the final puzzle piece.

And UCSF was wonderful place to be. I got to roam the halls, exploring intricate ribosome models and gawping at two-story-high statues of DNA. Lectures taught me what I couldn’t pick up at the lab bench. Professors and grad students were kind enough to walk me through problems and grade my attempts.

I had always wanted to go to MIT. Richard Feynman’s alma mater had to be a great place to imbibe scientific knowledge, and I was already using online MIT lectures in a self-structured curriculum. I scraped together the necessary test scores, muddled through the online application, and stuttered past the requisite interview. Wes Beach, a California-based expert at translating homeschooling experiences into fitting admissions applications, helped me shape my curriculum into a readable transcript.

A year later, I started freshman year as an MIT biology major. College had ups and downs; I’m most thankful for a wonderful stay at the Weiss Lab with mentor Adrian Slusarczyk and a thrilling semester exploring quantum mechanics with Prof. Allan Adams and Prof. Scott Hughes.

But the most valuable lessons I’ve learned still come from my dad and my science mentor Prof. Kenyon, both still in awe with nature, and both insatiably curious to know more. If you are homeschooling parent, please, share that awe with your child. We can take it from there.