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17th September 2014

These kids build prosthetic arms and diagnose breast cancer

My science fair project in middle school was about the drawing and writing skills of left versus right handed people. There was a (grand) twist on how clever the participants were using their non-dominant hands.

Could be the reason why I never made it to such an exclusive group of finalists?

The Google Science Fair has been hosted for four years in a row and gathers students (aged 13-18) from all around the world for an online competition “to change the world”. These kids come up with some mind-blowing projects about…basically anything.

Gathering the crème of the crème, here are some remarkable kids who chose to make a difference in medtech.

Cannot get a driving licence, can diagnose breast cancer

2012’s global prize winner Brittany Wenger came up with a neural cloud network to make the diagnosis of breast cancer more accurate, cheaper, and less painful. It wouldn’t do justice to call it a science fair project anymore; it’s out there, live and clear. She also spoke about it on TEDxWomen:


In 2013, finalist Elizabeth developed an app which could diagnose melanoma from just an image. With 80% accuracy, this could mean anyone at home can take a picture of a skin mole, upload it to the site and find out the risk of skin cancer in just a few minutes.

Breath to speech in $80

With winners for the global prize just announced, it was great to see that the voter’s choice as well as the Scientific American awards both went for projects that set out to change the lives of patients and caregivers.

Arsh’s Communication device helps those with difficulty speaking. It uses the rhythm of breath (what an idea!) to dictate letters which then form into words, phrases and complete sentences. He developed a non-invasive sensor much like a nasal cannula that picks up the rhythm of breath. And how does breath rhytm become a form of communication? Arsh used what was already out there: the International Morse code.


Kenneth decided to give caregivers assisting Alzheimer’s patients like his grandfather a break. His aunt looks after his grandfather and as struggles to keep him in tow given his tendency to wander away. So Kenneth developed a wearable sensor that people can place under their foot that transmits data via Bluetooth. Of course there’s an app that goes with it, providing real-time data and sending alerts. Kenneth’s idea took part in a 6 month trial, where the accuracy of his alarm was a perfect 100%, and is now looking forward to further tests in nursing homes. As an added benefit, gathering all this data could help in finding patterns in chronic sleepwalking and hopefully help us understand more about one of the conditions we know least about.

Congratulations kids, we’re in awe. Check out the other projects on googlesciencefair.com.


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Header Photo credit: Sarah Buckley/Flickr