Extraordinary Teen Awards 2022

Life during Covid didn’t stop these graduates from achieving remarkable things. In some cases, it inspired them to reach even higher.
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Potomac School graduate and inventor Benjamin Choi. Photo by Skip Brown.

Benjamin Choi

The Potomac School

When pandemic lab shutdowns scuttled his plans for a research project on aluminum fuel in the summer of 2020, Benjamin Choi pivoted to a new idea that he could work on from home, using a 3-D printer—a prosthetic arm for amputees that could be controlled by brain signals. He had seen a documentary about mind-controlled prosthetic limbs in third grade and was convinced he could design one that was not only less expensive, but also less invasive.

His prototype, recently featured in Smithsonian Magazine, costs $300 to produce and uses external sensors on the head (in lieu of surgical implants) to capture the brain signals that move the limb. The project earned Choi national and international accolades, including a top-40 finish in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (formerly the Westinghouse Science Talent Search). He has a provisional patent for the device.

“I really like the idea of building things,” says the McLean resident, who turns 18 in June. “It’s personally impactful to build things that help people.”

Most students with demanding course loads take copious notes. Choi doesn’t take notes; he commits lectures to memory.

A straight-A student with the highest GPA in his class at The Potomac School, he has a clear affinity for science, but his interests also extend beyond science. He plays first violin with the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras, captained his school’s varsity squash team, and has had his fiction and essays recognized in the 89th annual Writer’s Digest Literary Awards, Fiction Southeast and The New York Times.

After earning admission to Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Stanford, he has chosen to enroll at Harvard. He says he may want to become a college professor someday.

“I’m a little bit of an obsessive person,” Choi says. “It’s a double-edged sword. I can do a lot, but sometimes I can get a little carried away.”

His mom, Erin Cho, an attorney, says her son has always been insatiably curious. He started reading at age 2 and drawing the world’s continents at 4.

“He wants to know everything about everything. He pursues things at 150 miles an hour,” she says. “There’s nothing that doesn’t interest him.”

Categories: People