If you're struggling to win your first National Institutes of Health grant, here's another reason to be depressed: One of the most unusual NIH awards ever given went to a 9-year-old boy.

It was February 1957. Terence Boylan of Snyder, NY, near Buffalo, and his next-door neighbor, Bruce Cook, who had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair, were backyard astronomy buffs who dreamed of building a rocket that could fly to the moon. The final hurdles in the nation's polio vaccination program had been overcome. There was great optimism that science, supported by a vibrant research grant system, had the potential to cure diseases and unlock nature's mysteries.

Boylan's father, John, was a physician and medical researcher at the University of Buffalo. Terence asked his father where government research money comes from. John Boylan, busy reading medical school applications, replied simply that it comes from NIH. So, on...

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