Intel Science Talent Search is like the STEM version of The Voice, Dancing with the Stars and American Idol all rolled into one. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, it’s the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science and math competition.
And in what is considered one of the best corporate citizenship platforms for innovation at the high school science level, Maya Varma just won the $150,000 and First Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation for inventing a device to diagnose lung disease.
The 17-year-old Varma built her device out of $35 worth of basic electronics but its accuracy is as good as hospital-grade versions that can cost thousands of dollars. Varma calls it a spirometer. “People can’t afford this expensive equipment, and I decided to do something about it,” she said, in a press release.
Physicians can use data from the spirometer to diagnose and manage chronic pulmonary illnesses like asthma or emphysema. Patients blow into the device and a smartphone app analyzes the results. Varma has applied for a patent and plans to scale the model eventually.
Two other teens also won top $150,000 prizes: Amol Punjabi, 17, won First Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research for developing software that can help pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to treat cancer and heart disease; and Paige Brown, 17, won First Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good for projects such as a water filter to remove phosphate from storm water systems.
Three students were named second-place winners, taking home $75,000 each, and another three won $50,000 third-place prizes. Notably, two of the three top winners are girls in an arena dominated by males for years.
“In addition to honoring two female top winners, this year’s competition is the first in the Science Talent Search’s 75-year history in which more than half of the finalists are female,” said Rosalind Hudnell, VP Human Resources, director of Corporate Affairs at Intel and president of the Intel Foundation, in a press release. “This milestone is an inspiring sign of progress toward closing the gender gap in technology and engineering. We hope these finalists’ outstanding work will inspire young people from all backgrounds to develop their interests in these fields.”