Ah, middle school science fair. Backboards and beakers cluttered our kitchen tables, while mom nagged us for not starting the project sooner. For some, the middle school science fair was only the beginning of a bright and promising career in the sciences. For Dennis J. Mak '03, the middle school science fair framed him as a prime suspect in the search for the Unabomber.
This escapade begins in the eight grade science fair with Dennis' study of the antibacterial effects of garlic on e-coli. Dennis explains, "We had to do science fair projects, so I went to the University of San Francisco Medical School and happened to approach some random lady in the hallway and it happened to be the correct lady to approach." He continues, "She was the head of the microbiology lab. I asked her if I could do a science fair project with her, and she said yes. She turned out to be my science fair supervisor."
The project was a success, and Dennis decided to thank his advisor with "a collection of garlic products, including a garlic wreath, a garlic baking set, and garlic utensils." Because his gift was presented so late after the fact, he proceeded to wrap this belated present in metallic red wrapping paper, just in time for the holidays.
Unfortunately for him, the only ribbon that Walgreens had in stock was black. As his father drove him to deliver the present, Dennis thought it would be funny to make a small addition to the gift. He explains, "completely on a whim, as I was wrapping this box up and recounting this glorious triumph in the eighth grade science fair, I scrawled on a post it note 'this is a bomb, hiss.'" In this moment of inspiration, Dennis forgot something very important: "I forgot to put a return address."
Dennis' antics were perpetuated by poorly timing the delivery of the present. He explains, "It was Christmas time and everyone was out for winter break. So it just sat there for like a week, and started sprouting." One of the returning lab employees returned to find this smelly package with the Post-it note on top, and called the bomb squad and the whole medical school was evacuated.
Eventually, Dennis received a call from his former mentor expressing her appreciation for the gift. However, Dennis recalls that she expressed to him that she didn't think that her colleagues "took it so well" and that "he might get in a little trouble." Four months later, he was called out of Latin class by his school's dean. Dennis proceeded to the deans office only to be greeted by two FBI agents. After brief small talk, the two agents read him his rights and taped the remaining conversation. Dennis recounts that "it didn't take long for them to realize that I was just being a stupid kid." Apparently, from the time of the incident to the time of the interrogation, Dennis Mak was on the Unabomber suspect list.
When asked what he thought of this situation in retrospect, he simply said that "I just hope this isn't my fifteen minutes of fame." As for his diabolical laugh, he simply remarks, "I'm working on it."