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Young scientist creates machine learning software tool to detect cancer-causing gene mutations

/ 03:29 PM May 17, 2014

Nathan Han, 15, of Boston is celebrated by his fellow finalists for his first place win at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest high school science research competition. More than 1,700 high schoolers from 70 countries, regions and territories competed for more than US$5 million in awards this week. INTEL/CHRIS AYERS

LOS ANGELES – Nathan Han, 15, of Boston was awarded first place for developing a machine learning software tool to study mutations of a gene linked to breast cancer at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a program of Society for Science & the Public.

Using data from publicly available databases, Han examined detailed characteristics of multiple mutations of the BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene in order to “teach” his software to differentiate between mutations that cause disease and those that do not. His tool exhibits an 81 percent accuracy rate and could be used to more accurately identify cancer threats from BRCA1 gene mutations. Han received the Gordon E. Moore Award of $75,000, named in honor of the Intel co-founder and fellow scientist.

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Lennart Kleinwort, 15, of Germany received one of two Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards of US$50,000. Kleinwort developed a new mathematical tool for smartphones and tablets that brings capabilities to hand-held devices that previously required more sophisticated and expensive computing tools. His app allows users to hand draw curves, lines and geometric figures on the touch screen and watch the system render them into shapes and equations that can then be manipulated at will.

Shannon Xinjing Lee, 17, of Singapore received the other Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award of $50,000 for developing a novel electrocatalyst that may be used for batteries of the future. Researchers have been looking for ways to make rechargeable zinc-air batteries practical, as they would be safer, lighter in weight, and have six times the energy density of lithium ion batteries, making them ideal for hybrid vehicles. Lee found that her activated carbon catalyst, which she made entirely from carbonized Chinese eggplant, greatly out-performed a more sophisticated commercial catalyst in stability and longevity tests and will be environmentally friendly and inexpensive to produce.

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“The world needs more scientists, makers and entrepreneurs to create jobs, drive economic growth and solve pressing global challenges,” said Calum Chisholm, Intel Country Manager, Philippines. “Intel believes that young people are the key to innovation, and we hope that these winners inspire more students to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math, the foundation for creativity.”

This year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair featured more than 1,700 young scientists selected from 435 affiliate fairs in more than 70 countries, regions and territories. In addition to the top winners, more than 500 finalists received awards and prizes for their innovative research, including 17 “Best of Category” winners, who each received a $5,000 prize. The Intel Foundation also awarded a US$1,000 grant to each winner’s school and to the affiliated fair they represent. Additionally, the Intel Foundation presented a select number of students with experiential awards, including the new 11-day trip to China to attend the country’s largest national science competition, speak with researchers at Intel’s lab in Shanghai, and visit the Panda Research Base in Chengdu.

The following lists the 17 Best of Category winners, from which the top three were chosen:

Category First Last City State/Country
Animal Sciences Daksh Dua Delhi India
Abhishek Verma
Behavioral and Social Sciences Michelle Marquez Midlothian Virginia
Biochemistry Ken Aizawa Jericho New York
Cellular and Molecular Biology Joshua Meier Hackensack New Jersey
Chemistry Tai Hei Chan Hong Kong China
Er Hai Fang
Computer Science Yue Yao Shanghai China
Earth Science Yu-Hsin Chen Taipei City Chinese Taipei
Energy and Transportation Shannon Lee Singapore Singapore
Engineering: Electrical and Mechanical Sarah Galvin Tempe Arizona
Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering Harry Paul Port Washington New York
Environmental Management Faye Jong Kuching Malaysia
Environmental Sciences Perry Algappan Houston Texas
Mathematical Science Lennart Kleinwort Wurzburg Germany
Medicine and Health Sciences Nathan Han Boston Massachusetts
Microbiology Logan Collins Boulder Colorado
Physics and Astronomy John Caddell Pebble Beach California
Plant Sciences Yi-Hsuan Huang Taipei City Chinese Taipei

Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, has owned and administered the competition since its inception in 1950 as the National Science Fair.

“In congratulating Nathan, Lennart, and Shannon, we join with Intel in seeing great hope in their research, and that of all of our Intel ISEF finalists,” said Rick Bates, interim CEO and chief advancement officer of Society for Science & the Public. “Not only are they working to discover solutions for society’s challenges, they importantly serve as an inspiration for younger students and encourage them to become involved in the amazing world of hands-on science and engineering.”

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair honors the world’s most promising student entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists. Finalists are selected annually from hundreds of affiliated fairs. Their projects are then evaluated onsite by more than 1,200 judges from nearly every scientific discipline, each with a Ph.D. or the equivalent of six years of related professional experience in one of the scientific disciplines.

A full listing of finalists is available in the event program. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2014 is funded jointly by Intel and the Intel Foundation with additional awards and support from dozens of other corporate, academic, governmental and science-focused organizations. This year, more than $5 million was awarded.

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To learn more about Society for Science & the Public, visit www.societyforscience.org, and follow the organization on Facebook and Twitter.

To get the latest Intel education news, visit www.intel.com/newsroom/education, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

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TAGS: Boston, Cancer, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Medicine, Nathan Han, Science
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