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Intel STS 2015 Delivers Five Head-Turning Innovations

From supercomputing to genetics, check out some of this year’s projects from the Intel Science Talent Search

An unobtrusive respiratory monitor inspired by a musical instrument that creates sound effects for horror movies; computer coding that may speed up the internet; a computational model that seeks to pinpoint causes of colon cancer in order to improve diagnoses and treatment.

At this year’s Intel Science Talent Search (STS), head-turning innovations were around every turn. And that’s as it should be at the country’s most prestigious pre-college science competition, where there wasn’t a single potato battery or paper maché volcano.

More than 1,800 high school seniors applied for the competition, now in its 74th year, in the hopes of winning a piece of the more than $1.6 million in prizes.

Only 40 were chosen as finalists, based on leading-edge research, breakthrough discoveries and progressive inventions, all with far-reaching potential to make a positive difference in the world.

Though the top prizes went to just a handful of teens who wowed judges with their groundbreaking work, all finalists were winners in their own right. Take a look at some of the innovative and potentially life-changing projects presented by finalists this year.

Unobtrusive Respiratory Monitor

Existing respiratory monitors can be obtrusive (think gluey sensors and wires) and expensive. However, the ThereNIM, the brainchild of Eswar Anandapadmanaban, 17, of Jersey City, New Jersey, is neither.

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Based on the theremin, the musical instrument that has provided sound effects for scores of horror and sci-fi flicks, the ThereNIM operates similarly in that it uses antennae to sense changes in a magnetic field.

But in this case, the field is generated by the human body, and nearby antennae are used to track the process of breathing. This data is then transferred to a computer where frequencies can be charted and analyzed. The device can also be programmed to sound an alert if breathing stops.

As a result, applications range from studying sleep apnea to saving babies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). And the price: less than $50.

Cancer Treatment Teaches the Immune System to Fight Diseased Cells

This novel approach to treating melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, involves combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy. The idea, explains project creator Emily Lorin Ashkin, 17, of Matthews, North Carolina, is to teach the body’s immune cells to behave like drones that can seek out and kill deadly cancer cells.

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Adaptive cell transfer immunotherapy is a process that involves removing white blood cells that identify and destroy tumor cells, culturing them, and then infusing them back into the patient. However, rapid changes in a tumor can render this treatment ineffective.

By adding chemotherapy drugs to the process to inhibit the enzyme Topoisomerase I inside melanoma cells, the cancerous molecules become marked, thus making it easier for the infused white blood cells to recognize and fight cancerous cells.

Water Treatment System Removes Arsenic From Drinking Water

Arsenic poisoning from drinking water is a serious problem in countries all around the world, affecting millions of people. But through the use of a new bioreactor, designed by Kriti Lall, 17, of Fremont, California, this may one day be a problem of the past.

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At the heart of this novel arsenic-removal system is an arsenic-oxidizing gene first identified in a bacterium living in extremely salty, alkaline water. Because this bacterium was not an option for fresh water application, the gene was removed and inserted it into a more common and safe fresh-water bacterium, which proved capable of oxidizing arsenic in drinking water, thus making the poison easier to remove.

The resulting water treatment prototype combines sand filtration, arsenic oxidation via the new bacterial strain, and arsenic removal via common iron sulfate. This offers a practical solution to the problem for around $8, a fraction of the cost of existing devices.

Linear Network Coding Speeds up the Internet

As the number of people with internet access grows, so too does the need for scaling the current infrastructure to meet demand. The good news is that novel computer coding, performed by Dhaivat Nitin Pandya, 17, of Appleton, Wisconsin, may soon boost bandwidth for large networks everywhere, resulting in faster, more secure connections.

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Linear network coding is a technique that instructs network nodes to assemble information packets into groups, instead of merely passing along individual packets, and then sends each group to its destination where it is disassembled. This workflow can reduce packet loss and improve both network security and speed.

This project includes new algorithms to determine the best way to combine these network packets for efficiency. This cluster-based approach may allow such coding to be used for large applications, including cellular networks and data storage.

Computational Model Identifies Drivers of Colon Cancer

This computational model, combining both bioinformatics and genomics, was developed by Steven Michael Wang, 17, of Los Altos Hills, California, to better understand colorectal cancer – in particular, its causes – in order to develop more precise and patient-specific colorectal cancer diagnoses and treatments.

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It uses computations to distinguish true drivers of colon cancer from irrelevant genes. Additionally, it employs a colon “organoid,” a 3D cell culture system, to validate the computational findings.

To follow the work of some of these and other young innovators from around the globe, be sure to follow this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), where roughly 1,800 students from more than 70 countries, regions and territories will gather to present leading-edge research and compete for more than $5 million in awards and scholarships. Intel ISEF takes place May 10-15 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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