TEEN SCENE: Julian Jaffe

Welcome to Teen Scene, written by the great students of our area. Each month, our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents about a diverse range of topics. We’d love to hear from you and will help you polish it up, so don’t worry – let’s just get to sharing.

This month, 15-year-old Julian Jaffe, who lives in Lincroft and attends Voyagers’ Community School, tells us how he discovered his love for science and how he pursued his passion by finding people who supported him. Here is Julian’s story.

As a child, I always loved building things. I built lots of things, most of which were entertainingly pointless. To this day, I wonder what prompted my passion for construction and tinkering. It was that curiosity that led to my love of science, which I became interested in when I was trying to learn how to build more and more things. When I first discovered science, at a young age, I was intrigued by how much it influences everything around me. To be honest, I was hooked.

Then my family moved to Florida. My curiosity and passion for science began to dim, mostly because I attended a school that required me to focus large amounts of time on homework. Any time I didn’t spend completing homework was committed to video gaming. Also, I was constantly being discouraged by my classmates. It seemed everyone thought I was stupid and that I really wasn’t the best at math and literacy, which held some truth. Fortunately, I eventually left that school – but unfortunately, I attended an even worse one, where I was increasingly discouraged. It wasn’t until we returned to New Jersey and found Voyagers’ Community School that my love of science was revived. This school let me dig into my experiments. They gave me the time and materials that I needed to accomplish my work. They let me recover and rediscover what I really liked to do: build robots and make things explode – for science, of course.

Finding a place where you can be you is like a plant finding the perfect condition for growth. My school offers a new program called Project Weeks, which allows me two weeks, twice a year, where I plan and create a proposal for a project of my choosing. For my first Project Weeks, I used a giant lens from an old television to concentrate the sun’s powerful radiation into a super-hot ray of light, which could, at maximum efficiency, melt steel! Crazy, I know.

Somehow, my proposal to replicate the death laser was approved. During the first week, I constructed a frame and rotating stand for the lens. During the second week, I measured the power of the laser while melting pennies and crayons. I even cooked Ramen noodles. I discovered that the power of the laser was not enough to melt most metals, but could soften and heat up aluminum and completely melt zinc and lead.

The next school year, as a freshman in high school, I entered an international competition called Beautiful Minds, sponsored by Marlboro College in Vermont. That year’s specific theme was “creating something from destruction.”

For my submission, I would convert the giant sun laser of death, which resided in my garage, into an eco-friendly recycling machine. I spent all of November working on the transformation. Through experimentation, I learned that I could aim the focal point of the laser into a small ceramic crucible filled with junk plastic or metal. I could reduce that material into a liquid that I could pour into ceramic molds and recast metal into a spoon or ring. I could create new, useable products. I produced a zinc ring and a necklace from a bunch of rusty pennies.

I documented my work and results, and wrote a paper about the project. Even though I wasn’t very confident, I submitted it. I didn’t think I had put much effort into this. However, a panel of judges thought differently. One day, during Robotics class, I was called to the office to take a phone call. To my surprise, I won first place and a full scholarship to Marlboro College! My parents wouldn’t stop bragging about it for months; it was kind of embarrassing. I made a lot of people proud. More importantly, one of my crazy experiments actually got somewhere for once! I was the youngest person to ever win this competition. I guess I know what college I’m going to.

Now I know I have the potential to succeed. I know I can help people using science. I know, given my successes with science and engineering, what I want to pursue. I sincerely like science and I want to enter the tech industry.

I hope this resonates with others like me out there who feel the same. I am so grateful for the support of the school, my parents, family, and friends. Pursuing what I feel is important has gotten me a college scholarship and who knows what after that – so find people and places that support your dreams.