Kylie Veleta, Business of Health Reporter & Special Projects Editor, www.insideindianabusiness.com
A quick glance at Annie Ostojic’s Facebook page is evidence that she isn’t your average teenager—it sings of impressive scientific conquests: pictures of her when she was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 (when she was only 15), World’s 50 Smartest Teens, and shows Ostojic under the spotlight, presenting centerstage at national conferences. Back home in Indiana, the governor has taken note and recently named her the top science student in the state.
Ostojic was among the three youngest students named to the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30. While her accolades place Ostojic among the best nationally, she says recently being named the Science winner for Governor Eric Holcomb’s four-student 2019 STEM Team is one of her favorite accomplishments. The honor recognizes the top Hoosier student in each subject: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Her accolades are too numerous to list, such as winning the Hoosier State Science & Engineering Fair—seven years in a row. A common thread among her achievements is Ostojic working at levels far beyond her age. In middle school, she was taking high school classes. In high school, she’s completed six college courses—so far. She’ll graduate from Munster High School a semester early in December 2019.
“I really started accelerating myself early on in a variety of subjects,” says Ostojic. “For example, I just completed multivariate calculus and differential equations [200-level courses at Purdue University] this past year. When you get to that level in math, there are so many applications in a variety of science fields that you wouldn’t even think of. That’s very eye opening. When you start accelerating yourself like that, it’s incredible to see all those applications.”
Last summer, Ostojic had a full-time job at Purdue’s Center for Implantable Devices, where graduate students requested to work with her after witnessing her prowess in the laboratory, says the center’s managing director Gabriel Albors. The team is developing a specialized contact lens to treat glaucoma by reducing pressure within the eye.
“[Annie’s] work was a remarkable asset to our center,” says Albors. “What we do is most challenging, and Annie fulfilled all of our expectations and surpassed every challenge. Our work in translational engineering is a new field for a high school student; nevertheless…Annie took on the challenge, never hesitated to ask questions and learned how to utilize every major piece of equipment in our laboratory.”
Still hungry for more scientific research, Ostojic’s enthusiasm led the center to send lab equipment home with her when the summer job ended. Armed at-home with a microscope, soldering station and test equipment, Ostojic fabricates and tests parts of device systems and mails them back to the Purdue center.
Inspired by nothing more than her own curiosity, Ostojic is also conducting computational biology research at home, focusing on an ambiguous gene that scientists know very little about; its location in the cell is clear, but its function and purpose are mysterious. Using free databases, her data-mining skills and DNA-expression analyses, Ostojic is uncovering clues.
“I was able to find there might be a connection between this gene and its expression with another gene in breast cancer patients,” says Ostojic. “I’m looking into that right now to see if there’s an actual connection that we don’t know about. There would definitely need to be lab analyses; this has only been computational so far, but there seems to be a definite connection.”
Ostojic says she’s keeping her college options open and hasn’t yet committed to a school. Motivated by unanswered questions in the field of science, Ostojic believes her work so far has prepared her for even bigger challenges.
“Even just with the projects that I’ve done over the years, a lot of things fail along the way, and you really have to persevere—knowing there has to be a solution to that problem,” says Ostojic. “Sometimes it’s hard to maintain that concentration and determination, but that’s a key in scientific research.”
Ostojic has proven she can rise to the occasion; this Hoosier teen is going places, and she’ll likely get there by the time she’s 21.