‘Hard work pays off’ for SPIE prize winners at Intel science and engineering fair

Projects in spectroscopy, light therapy, object tracking, computer vision win photonics awards

03 June 2015
Judges Haiyin Sun and Bob Hainsey withe SPIE Photonics Prize winners at Intel ISEF
Judges Haiyin Sun and Bob Hainsey pose with SPIE Photonics Prize winners at Intel ISEF. From left, front row, are Ziyan Mo, Natasha Goenawan, and Savannah Floyd; back row, Sun, John Dean, Daniel Zvara, and Hainsey.

BELLINGHAM, Washington, and PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, USA -- Photonics projects on spectroscopy for disease diagnosis, light-based vision therapy for brain-injury patients, 3D object tracking in liquids, and 3D mapping and analysis of complex structures won special prizes from SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2015 (ISEF) in Pittsburgh last month.

The prize-winning students were among more than 1,700 finalists who qualified for Intel ISEF by participating in regional, state, or national fairs associated with the Society for Science and the Public.

Haiyin Sun, senior optical engineer with ChemImage Corp. and a member of the SPIE Education Committee, and SPIE Science and Technology Strategist Bob Hainsey selected recipients of the SPIE awards. Awards were presented on 15 May, at the end of the weeklong fair.

"The Intel ISEF is a great event for thousands of high school students from all over the world," said Sun, who also served as the leading special award judge for SPIE in 2012. "They get a chance to know each other, to talk to world-class scientists and engineers, and to be inspired in pursuing a career in science and engineering."

Both Sun and Hainsey commented that several projects students presented in the field of optics are well beyond the high school level and could lead to valuable engineering progress or scientific discovery.

The first-place SPIE prize went to John Dean of Scotia, New York, for "Three-dimensional object tracking using a rapid scanning double droplet system microscope." He built a piezo-vibrating liquid lens system; by vibrating the lens, he changed the focal length in real time which enables scanning through and imaging transparent systems.

For applications, "think of life science applications in aqueous solutions where you want to track cell motion, material science applications where you want to study the behavior of dispersions, or chemistry/pharma type of experiments studying solute in solution," Hainsey said. "John demonstrated a full-system approach with both hardware and software -- and a deep understanding of optics."

For second place, in "Two-photon spectroscopy for the early diagnosis of ALS: folding and aggregation of SOD1," Natasha Goenawan and Ziyan Mo of Kalamazoo, Michigan, studied the activation of proteins tied to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease") utilizing two-photon spectroscopy.

In particular, they found a correlation in the protein activation after binding with a fluorescent marker when they looked not at the two-photon signal but rather the two-photon signal normalized to the single-photon signal. "They did a beautiful job of data collection and analysis and were able to correlate and verify and validate their results with independent methods," Hainsey said.

Third place was awarded to Savannah Floyd of Choudrant, Louisiana, for "TBI: light more than meets the eye." The project dealt with light therapy techniques to improve visual performance in traumatic brain injury patient, in particular laser light therapy to restore peripheral vision in TBI patients.

Fourth place went to Daniel Zvara of Lietava, Slovakia, for "Computer vision: mapping and orientation in 3D space." He utilized a stereoscopic setup to capture images, and then wrote software to analyze the images and map pseudotexturing onto the images to provide depth information which, in turn, allowed him to build 3D maps of complex structures. "Daniel was thrilled," Hainsey said. "He said, 'The hard work pays off, it really does pay off. It's all worth it.' "

First-place winner Dean said the fair was the best experience of his high-school career. "Nothing has made me more optimistic about the future than meeting so many amazingly smart, interesting, and scientifically minded kids at Intel ISEF," he said. "Just going on the trip was enough of an award in and of itself."

Fellow honorees Goenawan and Mo agreed.

"It was breathtaking to meet people from around the world with a common interest in science," Goenawan said. "To be at ISEF was an exciting experience, but to take home a special award was even more exciting and empowering -- knowing that our research has the potential to impact the world."

Mo also was impressed with what she saw at the event.

"My teacher once said that I was in the smartest classroom that I will ever be in, but ISEF changed my view about everything; that expo room is THE place where the brightest and the smartest minds are," said Mo. "Teenagers, people without any degrees, are making a difference in this world."

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit educational organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 264,000 constituents from approximately 166 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $4 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2014. www.spie.org



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