Blind L.I. High School Student Wins $75K In Science Competition

GREAT NECK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island student with an eye for research won a prestigious award, taking second place nationally in a science competition.

The catch? She’s blind.

There was quite a homecoming celebration for 17-year-old high school student Michelle Hackman of Great Neck, New York, reports CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.

Surrounded by family and friends and overwhelmed with flowers, Michelle was applauded for placing second in a national science competition despite being blind.

WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall: Blindness couldn’t stop her

“She has a lot of will with the challenges she has – she’s amazing,” relative Ruth Kamali said.

Without eyesight, Michelle won a $75,000 prize for researching what many of us do every day – text messaging.

“You can hear people typing,” she said. “You can sort of tell when they’re not talking to you or they’re not looking at you.”

Michelle set out to discover why that is, and she found that text messages raise dopamine levels, stimulate the brain, and provide a level of excitement and withdrawal similar to cocaine. It’s scientific proof of cell phone addiction.

“That was all really speculation, and I wanted to sort of make it science,” Michelle said.

What she really found was what her parents had been telling her ever since she lost her sight at eight years old from a detached retina.

“If you don’t have sight, God has given you other things. Don’t feel sorry – just go ahead, zoom ahead,” Michelle’s father, Daniel Hackman, said.

“The sky is the limit, and I told her, ‘there is nothing you can’t do,’” mother Sarah Hackman said.

“There were certain activities that I couldn’t get involved in, maybe sports, so I turned my attention to academia and I’m very lucky that I stumbled upon research,” Michelle said.

The only thing missing from the celebration was Michelle’s $75,000 prize. That’s going straight to her college of choice, Yale University.

“I’m going to pay for a year and a half of college,” she said.

That’s what made the family gathering so special – it was a celebration of a young woman’s determination to beat the odds, sight unseen.

A student from California won the competition’s top prize of $100,000.

More from Sophia Hall
  • Bobo

    I’d have to see the research before making any judgement. Good research, especially from someone with a disability such as blindness, is amazing. Although, just saying that text messaging makes people happy is not enough. In any case, the Intel competitions chose her for 2nd place, which means that the research must have been solid. Hopefully there was no bias/sympathy/other and the prizes were still given based on whose research was the best.

  • A citizen who uses cell phone a lot

    Dear Michelle,
    I think you were cheated by paying you only $75K.
    Your research will affect the whole social media technologies, cell phones & telecommunications industries and understandings of psychology & behavior of modern human beings. You have affected human beings as a whole for good. You deserve the Nobel Prize!
    Thank you,

  • dorit

    Why do they have to refer to her as “Blind” that is so wrong!

  • Janet


    Congratulations on a well deserved award, you certainly are every parents’ dream come true.

    I haven’t read your research paper but I already find it unbeleivably interesting. I would love to read your entire winning research.

    Based on this achievement I know you will be highly successful throughout your life. As a mom, I know your parents have be so very proud you.


  • Mark

    The announcement at the Intel Science Search says she also “launched a rural secondary school in Cambodia that benefits girls confronted with significant gender violence and sex trafficking..” Amazing person.

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