True Role Model: Teenage Winner Of The Google Science Fair Creates Breast Cancer Detector

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This morning, our Editor-In-Chief Shawna Cohen pointed out an indisputable fact. Teenage celebrities make for precarious role models. The entertainment industry is not geared towards providing examples of intelligent, strong and independent-minded females. Sure, that happens from time-to-time. But it’s really not the focus of the movie and music business. You want to know who your daughter should look up to? 17-year-old Brittany Wenger.

Brittany is this year’s winner of the Google science fair, a prestigious and extremely difficult competition that brings out the very best and brightest teenagers on the planet to compete for a $50,000 college scholarship. I’m sure the worldwide recognition doesn’t hurt any, either. Or the winner’s trip to the Galapagos Islands.

So how did the teen score this amazing victory? She didn’t determine whether lima beans grow better to rap or rock. She didn’t study the effects of caffeine on studying ability and retention through a survey of a couple thousand high school students. (That was my junior research project. I can’t even remember my senior one.) No, Brittany Wenger created a neural network that’s capable of detecting breast cancer with 99.11% accuracy. I’ll give you a minute to pick up your jaw.

The fine ladies of The Mary Sue explain Wenger’s process better than I ever could:

When it comes to breast cancer detection, the least invasive method, Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA), is often the least accurate. On the prowl for a research project, Wegner thought she might be able to harness the power of computer to boost the diagnostic method’s accuracy.

Wegner, who has been fascinated by Artificial Intelligence since the 7th grade, spent more than 600 hours coding her groundbreaking artificial neural network. The program, which operates from Google’s Cloud, learns from patterns and mistakes in data sets. After inputting 681 fine needle aspirate samples, her program was able to learn the similarities and differences across the entire data set, eventually “teaching” the network to detect cancerous tumors given a fine needle aspirate with near perfect accuracy.

I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but just, wow. Can we say that? Wow! This is a 17-year-old girl we’re talking about.

I have to tell you, before I shared this news with you or anyone else on the internet, you want to know who I told about Wenger’s tremendous accomplishment? My daughter. I realize that a four-year-old won’t grasp the finer points of cancer detection and artificial intelligence. But I called my little girl into my office and I told her all about the smart girl who won a worldwide science contest by inventing something that could help make people healthier. I wanted her to know that this is possible. Young girls can do extraordinary things.

If we’re looking for young girls that our daughters can look up to, here’s where we can go. Look at last year’s three female winners. Look at Brittany Wenger. Look at these intelligent young women who are succeeding in difficult competitions that are thought to be “men’s area of expertise.” Look at these girls and you’ll find some truly amazing role models for your daughter.

(Photo: mmaxer/Shutterstock)