Of the ten finalists in the 2018 Young Scientist Challenge, five are Indian-origin kids; Mehaa Amirthalingam finishes second
By Geeta Goindi
Saint Paul, Minnesota, October 20, 2018 – For three consecutive years, Indian-American whiz kids have won the highly competitive Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. This year, Rishab Jain, 13, of Portland, Oregon has earned first place in the annual premier science competition for middle school students.
Young Rishab aspires to make the treatment of pancreatic cancer more effective, so he has created a method that uses artificial intelligence to help accurately locate the pancreas during MRI radiotherapy. For his invention of the Pancreatic Cancer Deep Learning System (PCDLS) tool, he was conferred with the title of ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’, awarded the grand prize of 25,000 dollars, and an opportunity to attend the taping of a Discovery Network show.
The competition was held over two days, October 15-16, at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where young changemakers were evaluated on a series of challenges including a presentation of their completed project.
Interestingly, this year, of the ten finalists, five were of Indian descent: Mehaa Amirthalingam, 13, of Sugar Land, Texas; Sriram Bhimaraju, 12, of Cupertino, California; Cameron Sharma, 14, of Glen Allen, Virginia; Krish Wadhwani, 14, of Alpharetta, Georgia; and Rishab. Mehaa bagged second place in the competition.
The finalists – next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) leaders — were selected from hundreds of competitors across the nation based on their scientific prowess, exceptional innovative and communication skills, and an uncanny ability to make a positive difference in their community, country, and around the world.
Rishab, a seventh-grade student at Stoller Middle School, was hoping to win the Young Scientist Challenge because, in his words, “it will allow me to share my ideas with the world, innovate the future and get mentorship to make my invention into a real product”.
The budding scientist discloses, “I have been very interested in STEM areas and started learning, doing research and experimenting with applications of artificial intelligence in the medicine area. This led me to my invention of my Pancreatic Cancer Deep Learning System (PCDLS) tool”.
Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, surpassing breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers and about 7 percent of all cancer deaths. The Society estimates that, in 2018, some 55,400 people (29,200 men and 26,240 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 44,330 people (23,020 men and 21,310 women) will die of this disease.
Targeting the pancreas poses a challenge in radiation treatment: It is often obscured by the stomach or other nearby organs making it difficult to locate the pancreas; Breathing and other anatomical changes may cause the pancreas to move around in the abdominal area. As a result, radiotherapy treatment can inadvertently target and impact healthy cells.
Rishab developed and tested his algorithm using images of the human digestive system, and discovered it could accurately detect the pancreas with a 98.9 percent success rate. The tool aims to improve accuracy, reduce invasiveness and increase efficiency during treatment, resulting in a better quality of life and chances for survival among patients.
Not one to be deterred, Rishab believes, “Things become easy once you learn them. The monster of complex STEM problems can be tamed with experiments and trying again one more time”!
Regarding his future career goals, he aspires to be either a biomedical engineer or a doctor so that he can “keep developing technology to find a cure for cancer and improving people’s lives”, he says.
Mehaa, an eighth-grade student at Sartartia Middle School, developed a toilet flushing system that uses both fresh and recycled water to reduce water consumption in the home. “Innovation should not degrade humanity for the sake of personal growth”, she says.
For Mehaa, the Young Scientist Challenge was “a great way to spend the summer working with great scientists of the world at 3M”. Someday, she hopes to be a patent holding engineer.
Among the other finalists were: Anna Du, 12, of Massachusetts; Julia Gelfond, 12, of Maryland; Zachary Hessler, 13, of Florida; Theodore Jiang, 13, of California; and Leo Wylonis, 13, of Pennsylvania. All ten – three girls and seven boys – were afforded an opportunity to work one-on-one with a renowned 3M Scientist during a summer mentorship program. Each student received 1,000 dollars and an expense-paid trip to the 3M headquarters to participate in the final event.
Following Rishab’s win, Indian-origin kids have been crowned champion of the competition for three years in a row, and in five of the last seven years: Gitanjali Rao (2017); Maanasa Mendu (2016); Sahil Doshi (2014); and Deepika Kurup (2012).
The competition was first launched by Discovery Communications in 1999 and in 2008, Discovery Education joined forces with 3M to present the Young Scientist Challenge.
It is the nation’s premier science contest for students in grades 5 through 8, and has turned scores of young people across the nation into innovators while enhancing science exploration and honing communication skills. The goal is “to foster a new generation of American scientists at an age when interest in science generally declines”. Students are encouraged to think out of the box, to come up with innovative ideas and solutions for tomorrow’s pressing issues.
“All of the finalists for America’s Top Young Scientist embody the same curiosity, creativity, and passion that 3M uses when we apply science to life”, said Paul Keel, senior vice president of Business Development and Marketing Sales at 3M. “These talented young men and women are just beginning their lives as scientists. I am excited by the endless possibilities that await each of them. We wish them all the joy and success that comes from a lifelong journey of exploration”.
Lori McFarling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Discovery Education, noted, “Inspiring millions of students over the past decade to develop new innovations and solutions that solve real-world problems, the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge has encouraged kids to gain valuable critical-thinking and solution-seeking skills for life”.
“Congratulations on our newest Top Young Scientist Rishab and all 2018 YSC finalists on their incredible efforts”, she said. “Discovery Education is honored to be a part of a partnership that not only encourages, but provides the tools necessary for the next generation of young innovators to be successful in their pursuit of learning how to make the world a better place”.