May 13 through 18 was a week of inspiring innovation at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. More than 1,500 high school students from 68 countries considered as the world’s brightest young scientists took part in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF) 2012. They shared ideas, showcased cutting-edge research and inventions and competed for more than $3 million in awards.
Catherine Wong, a junior at Morristown High School, was one of the promising young scientists invited to show off her high-tech skills at Intel’s ISEF—specifically her “Design and Evaluation of a Cell-Phone Compatible Wireless
The Intel ISEF is the world's largest science fair and recognizes students who are accomplished young scientists in their respective fields,” notes Erin Colfax, Catherine’s science teacher who accompanied her to the fair. “Cathy had a successful showing at the fair. Her research was recognized with specialty awards from the United States Air Force, the AVASC organization and Florida Institute of Technology. Additionally, she received a category award in engineering of fourth place. She brought home several significant cash prizes and even a scholarship.” Adds Colfax: “Cathy has a life goal of helping others in impoverished areas around the world.”
NJ Next Stop spoke with Catherine to learn more about her potentially life-saving biomedical engineering technology.
NJ Next Stop: What led you to Intel’s ISEF? Have you always been interested in science?
Catherine Wong: I have two parents in scientific fields, in medicine, and they introduced me to it early on. As a freshman, I was interested in engineering. I had a fantastic physics teacher and thought engineering was something I wanted to pursue. They always tell you that engineering is about impact and application. I thought the way I would be able to have the most impact was to work for residents of areas in developing countries where they have no technology. [I learned that] developing countries have extremely high rates of cell phone use. In India, there are more people with cell phones than toilets. I decided that creating technology that will work with this platform would be a very powerful tool to meet their needs locally.
NJ Next Stop: What is your cell phone project all about?
Catherine: I develop medical diagnostic equipment that works with cell phones. This year, I’m working on building an electrocardiograph or EKG, an imaging technique that they use to diagnose heart disease. It works off the cell phone. It’s actually piggy backing off a project that I did last year to get stethoscopes to work with the cell phone. That was successful enough that I wanted to see if other diagnostic equipment could work off the same platform. The cell phone itself is displaying the EKG image. The [traditional] EKG is a fairly large standalone device that is going to display imaging of the heartbeat and cardiac problems. My [wireless electrocardiograph] turns the cell into an EKG. It’s a device that transmits signals from the heart to the cell phone so it will display the image and transmit it to physicians and doctors who are located remotely, not where the patient is.
NJ Next Stop: This can give people living in rural areas access to better health care?
Catherine: Yes. The idea is to outsource the diagnosis so that wherever the patient is located, this cell phone infrastructure can help him or her get medical care of the same caliber and quality as if that physician were available locally.
NJ Next Stop: How well is your technology working?
Catherine: The prototype I have right now is working really well. When you take an EKG, there are certain placements of electrodes across the heart. They have a gold standard of what a healthy EKG should look like. You look for certain signals in that ultimate transmission, especially what is called the PQRST wave, and if those things are visible in the signal, it means that it is accurate and a diagnosis can be made. All those are visible in the signals that I am outputting on the cell phone, which means that even though it costs $200 as opposed to $5,000 for a traditional EKG machine, it is still giving the same accuracy of the diagnosis.
NJ Next Stop: What are your plans after high school?
Catherine: I haven’t really looked much into college yet. I definitely want to go further with biomedical engineering because this has cemented my interest in science. I’m spending the summer at MIT at the Research Science Institute. They’re going to pair me up with different labs and different professors at MIT to work further on this project. I really want to expand the diagnostic devices that are available on the platform. If cell phones can be used as EKGs and stethoscopes, it’s conceivable that many other diagnostic devices like ultrasound can also be put on the same thing.