Teenagers with photonics projects on spectroscopy for disease diagnosis, light-based vision therapy for brain-injured patients, 3D object tracking in liquids, and 3D mapping and analysis of complex structures won special prizes from SPIE at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
The prize-winning students were among more than 1700 finalists from 75 countries who qualified for the world’s largest high-school science research competition by participating in regional, state, or national fairs associated with the Society for Science and the Public.
SPIE member Haiyin Sun, senior optical engineer with ChemImage Corp., and SPIE Science and Technology Strategist Bob Hainsey selected recipients for the SPIE awards.
"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 judges commented that several projects the students presented at the weeklong fair in May were well beyond high-school-level optics and could lead to valuable engineering progress or scientific discovery.
Intel ISEF winners and judges. Left to right in front row are Mo, Goenawan, and Floyd. Back row: Sun, Dean, Zvara, and Hainsey.
The first-place SPIE award went to John L. Dean, 17, of Scotia, NY (USA) for “Three-dimensional object tracking using a rapid scanning double droplet system microscope.” Dean built a piezo-vibrating liquid lens system that can change the focal length in real time.
“Think of life-science applications in aqueous solutions where you want to track cell motion,” Hainsey said of the possible uses for the system. “John demonstrated a full-system approach with both hardware and software — and a deep understanding of optics.”
The second-place SPIE prize was awarded to Natasha Goenawan and Ziyan Mo, both 16, of Kalamazoo, MI (USA) for “Two-photon spectroscopy for the early diagnosis of ALS: folding and aggregation of SOD1.” Their research centered on the activation of proteins tied to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Savannah Floyd, 15, of Choudrant, LA, (USA) won third place for “TBI: light more than meets the eye.” Her project dealt with laser light therapy to restore peripheral vision in traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients.
Fourth place went to Daniel Zvara, 18, of Lietava, Slovakia, for “Computer vision: mapping and orientation in 3D space.”
Zara 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."
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 the event.
"ISEF changed my view about everything," Mo said. "That expo room is THE place where the brightest and the smartest minds are. Teenagers, people without any degrees, are making a difference in this world."
The students received a combined total of $5,000 US for the four SPIE awards.