October 29, 2021

Creativity in Science: Celebrating the Winners of the 2021 Essay Contest

Creativity in Science event card

In the spring of 2021, students in grades 6 to 12 submitted essays responding to the writing prompt, “How do Dr. Hilleman’s accomplishments demonstrate the importance of creativity in science?”  Three winners, Marian Caballo, Aidan Lin, and Thomas McConkey were selected from 120 submissions across 25 different U.S. states and territories.

In their winning essays, each student reflected on the importance of creativity in science generally and, more specifically, in relation to Dr. Hilleman’s work:

  • Marian Caballo observed how Dr. Hilleman “exemplified scientific creativity by maximizing his resources and using unconventional reasoning to challenge the established precepts of vaccinology. Without his efforts, we would live in a vastly different world.” She also noted that, “Dr. Hilleman's creative brilliance underscores the importance of fostering diverse, creative thinking in the next generation of problem solvers and changemakers. Not a generation of Hilleman carbon copies, but scientists with new hopes and new ideas, galvanized by the same drive to create.”
  • Aidan Lin wrote of his appreciation for Dr. Hilleman’s creative scientific genius in the personal context of his family’s experiences with hepatitis B virus: “I am grateful for Dr. Hilleman's persistent quest to save the world's children and his invention of the hepatitis B vaccine which changed the fate of my family. Dr. Hilleman introduced novel approaches to vaccinology that would not have been possible if he had not been a highly creative scientist. His innovative work has directly benefited my family and almost every family in the world.”
  • Thomas McConkey described Dr. Hilleman’s vaccines as being akin to other great works of art: “Dr. Hilleman used his creative thinking and techniques to develop his vaccines. His ingenuity has likely saved millions of lives, maybe more. His vaccines are masterpieces comparable to the works of Mozart, Picasso, and Shakespeare. If their unique creations endured centuries, then surely Dr. Hilleman's vaccines will endure millennia.”

The three winners were celebrated at a virtual event, "Creativity in Science," held on October 29, 2021. The program, hosted by Dr. Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center and Dr. Hilleman’s biographer, featured the students reading their winning essays and included remarks from Dr. Hilleman’s wife, Lorraine. The event also marked the world premiere of the short film, “Inventing our Future: The Creativity of Science,” by Donald R. Mitchell, the director of HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, viral immunologist, COVID-19 mRNA vaccine lead scientist, and assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health delivered the keynote address, “Creativity in Science During a Pandemic.” Each student had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. Hilleman, Dr. Corbett, and the VEC and Vaccine Makers Project teams before the celebratory event.

The teachers named in each student’s winning entry were also invited to attend the virtual celebration event with their current students. The recognized teachers also received a signed copy of Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong, written by Paul A. Offit, MD, and a 1-year, complimentary membership to the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), graciously provided by NABT.

Read the winning essays here.

Learn more about Dr. Corbett here.

Watch the short film, “Inventing our Future: The Creativity of Science.”

Learn more about Dr. Hilleman’s life and work here.