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Girls Love Science: Meet the Winner of the Google Science Fair

July 27, 2012

17 year-old Brittany Wenger from Lakewood Ranch, Florida, has won the grand prize in the Google Science Fair for her computer app that can detect breast cancer.

According to the project website, the “Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer successfully detects 99.11% of malignant breast tumors.”

Leveraging the computing power of the cloud to assist with medical diagnosis can become an effective tool for doctors to provide more consistent and reliable care.  Artificial neural networks detect patterns too complex to be recognized by humans and can be applied to breast mass malignancy classification when evaluating Fine Needle Aspirates (FNAs).  This project teaches the cloud how to diagnose breast cancer by implementing a custom-crafted neural network that consumes FNA data collected by the University of Wisconsin to answer the question – is a mass malignant or benign?

Wow, she is so much smarter than me…

From what I can gather, the app is used by doctors who plug in various information gathered about the lump, and the computer spits out a very accurate diagnosis as to whether the sample came from a tumor that is malignant or benign. The information about the tumor can be gathered using the least invasive measure, the Fine Needle Aspirates, that was previously the least conclusive in making a diagnosis. Wenger’s app changes that, and makes earlier detection possible.

Not only did she figure out at age 17 how to build and code a neural network, but she used it to save lives.

My favorite tidbit in this whole story? According to MSNBC,

Wenger started building these networks in the seventh grade after studying the future of technology for a school project. “I came across artificial intelligence and was just enthralled. I went home the next day and bought a programming book and decided that was what I was going to teach myself to do,” she said.

We desperately need to encourage more kids to get passionate about science and technology and how they works, people. Go. Take your kids to a programming class, stat.

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