15-year-old wins Intel prize for software that detects cancer-causing genes
By Stu Robarts
May 19, 2014
Intel has announced the winners of its 2014 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). According to Intel, the contest is the world's largest high school science research competition. The top prize went to 15-year-old Nathan Han for his software that studies the mutations of a gene linked to breast cancer.
Each year, around 7 million high school students across the globe develop and submit original research for the Intel ISEF competition. Over 1,700 participants from more than 70 countries, regions, and territories were selected to join this year's "week-long celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math". Last year's competition was won by Romanian teenager Ionut Budisteanu who designed a low-cost self-driving car.
This year, over 500 finalists were rewarded for their research, including 17 "Best of Category" winners who each received a US$5,000 prize. Two Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards of $50,000 were awarded and the top prize of $75,000 was given to Han as the winner of the the Gordon E. Moore Award, named after the Intel co-founder and scientist.
The software developed by Han, who is from the US, sourced data from publicly available databases to examine characteristics across different mutations of BRCA1, a gene that helps to suppress tumors. Han's software was able to "learn" how to differentiate between mutations that cause disease and those that do not with an 81 percent accuracy rate.
Of the two Young Scientist Awards, Lennart Kleinwort, also 15 and from Germany, developed an app that lets users hand-draw curves, lines, and geometric figures and then render them "into shapes and equations that can then be manipulated at will." The second Young Scientist Award went to 17-year-old Shannon Xinjing Lee from Singapore. Lee developed an electrocatalyst made entirely from carbonized Chinese eggplant. It outperformed a more sophisticated commercial catalyst and could be used in the batteries of the future.
The contest was judged by more than 1,200 scientists with either a Ph.D. or the equivalent of six years of professional scientific experience. More than $5 million in prizes was awarded at this year's contest.
"The world needs more scientists, makers, and entrepreneurs to create jobs, drive economic growth, and solve pressing global challenges," says Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation. "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."