Google Science Fair Winners Announced
July 25, 2012

Google Science Fair Winners Announced

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Google´s 2nd annual International Science Fair was a smashing success, with thousands of entries submitted from around the world from students between the ages of 13 and 18, with 15 contestants making the cut in Monday´s final round.

During Monday´s finals, National Geographic was given the honor to serve up three explorers -- engineer Albert Yu-Min Lin, ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, and renewable energy innovator TH Culhane -- as judges for the event. In addition, the grand prize winner will join National Geographic on a journey to the Galapagos Islands.

Lin added that at National Geographic, there is always the desire to inspire the next generation of scientists and that this global science fair is the "perfect platform" to do that. “We're enabling that important discussion of what is going on in the world and what can we do to make it better,” he added.

After all the smoke cleared, Google and the judges had picked the clear winners, announcing them at a banquet in Palo Alto, California Monday night to an eager crowd.

Brittany Wenger, 17, of Sarasota, Florida, received the grand prize in the event. She was recognized for writing a computer program that would help doctors diagnose breast cancer less invasively. She dubbed the program the ℠Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer.´

Essentially, she crafted an artificial neural network in the Google App Engine cloud that can be tailored and deployed immediately and be more cost-effective.

Wenger said she was inspired to start the project after several of her family members had been diagnosed with the often deadly disease. “It's something that touches all of us,” she added.

The computer program learns based on mistakes and detects patterns that humans cannot identify. Wenger has conducted more than 7 million trials, and success rates will dramatically improve as the global medical community deposits more data into the cloud, she said.

Data has so far only come from the University of Wisconsin, but the network already boasts a 99.11 percent success rate of diagnosing malignant breast cancer tumors using the program.

“The whole judging panel came away with a big ℠wow,´” said the technologist Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, of Wenger´s project. Wenger´s prize includes $50,000, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, one year of mentoring and internship opportunities.

Wenger developed her passion for science when she was just a tyke, when she got to know the doctors caring for her younger brother who suffered from a lung condition. “I really grew to idolize the men and women in scrubs and got a taste of what science could do to change the world,” she said.

Jeff Wenger, Brittany´s father, said in 6th grade she had an “amazing” science teacher who encouraged her to follow her dreams and pursue projects of her own. “She instilled in Brittany the scientific method “¦ and encouraged her to participate in competitions,” he told Anna Kuchment at Scientific American.

Brittany Wenger was not the only winner.

Jonathan Kohn, 14, of San Diego, California, who won in the 13-14 age group, created a device that converts sound into tactile vibration to improve the music-listening experience for the hearing impaired. The device attaches to different parts of the body and translates different frequencies of sound to different degrees of tactile stimulation. With Kohn´s invention, people with or without hearing have a whole new way of experiencing and enjoying sound.

This concept came to Kohn through one of the oddest triumphant moments in human understanding: biting the head of his guitar. He and a classmate discovered that by putting their teeth on the guitar, they could hear the music much clearer.

In response to a statement Kohn made during his presentation to the judges: ℠that tactile sound could have an impact beyond music to illuminate how we perceive language,´ Cerf said: “I suddenly realized that there are lots of different means by which we understand things, and there is not just a single medium, it´s not just voice: but it´s what we see, what we hear and now possibly what we feel. I wanted to just stop everything and go back to school.”

In the 15-16 age group, the prize went to a trio -- Iván Hervías Rodríguez, Marcos Ochoa and Sergio Pascual -- from Logrono, Spain. They received the prize for documenting the hazardous and non-hazardous organisms found in water from different parts of their country. They called their experiment “The Secret Life of Water.” They studied how these organisms influence the environment and mapped their prevalence across the country.

“They went back to a very ancient tradition in natural sciences, which is sampling the real world, cataloguing what you find, and then analyzing it to try to interpret what the implications are,” said Cerf.

The winners from each group were announced at a special banquet Monday evening. All contestants received Google Chromebooks.

Awards and videos of the 2012 Google International Science Fair can be seen here.