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This Exists... Because of A Lady

Google Science Fair Winner Brittany Wenger Made a Neural Network That Can Diagnose Breast Cancer


Looking back on high school, I’m often surprised that I graduated with even a modicum of science literacy — let’s just say that my projects usually seemed a bit rushed, which is to say they were entirely completed the night before the due date. But for the teens who competed in this year’s Google Science Fair, an annual competition that invites teenagers from around the world to digitally submit their science projects, I think it’s safe to say that science is a blessing and an opportunity, and not a curse. Among this year’s amazing contestants, grand prize winner Brittany Wenger, a 17-year-old girl from Florida, seems to be stealing the show — and with her amazing project, a neural network that can diagnose breast cancer with 99.11% accuracy, can you really blame her?

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. In honor of her outstanding scientific achievement, Google has awarded her a $50,000 scholarship for college, a lego trophy, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and perhaps most importantly, worldwide recognition.

Wegner plans to leave her project online, and encourages hospitals and physicians to input their own data, which will only stand to improve the accuracy of her network. As for her own plans, the young scientist hopes to follow her dreams and work at the forefront of computer-assisted cancer research and patient care, an easy feat for a hungry mind like hers: “When you’re passionate about something you’ll be persistent and really enjoy it,” she said.

Though she hardly needs it considering how much she has impacted the world of science already, we wish her all the best in her future career! Congratulations, Brittany!

(via Innovation News Daily.)

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  • Anonymous

    As amazing her invention is, and how wonderful her desire to share it, I don’t think anyone would begrudge her if she found a way to make a few dollars for herself at it?

    I mean, altruism doesn’t pay the Internet bill.

  • http://twitter.com/NatalieKimNYC Natalie Kim

    Ahh…makes my baking soda volcano look pretty crappy right about now.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2XLDU2FB2XKUYAA3RAGFGTQXXQ Sarah

    No, but that $50k scholarship she just won might help. Plus I doubt it’ll be her only scholarship – what science program wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to get her to choose their school?

  • Amanda W

    Impressive, most impressive.

  • John Wao

    Yet another reason I have hope for this country.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=677698384 Lauren Elaine

    Congratulations, indeed! What a wonderful, groundbreaking development! 

  • Anonymous

    unfortunately for every one of these there are still 9 kids teased out of science

  • Anonymous

    Ok, thats nice for her age, but it’s nothing new, it’s all about neural networks. 
    Many researchers had similar results (%) using wiscounsin breast cancer data…few years ago. 

  • Anonymous

    An she at least guaranteed a job interview at Google and probably just about every other technology firm in Silicon valley 

  • http://www.facebook.com/kiley.wright Kiley Wright

    Were they 17 at the time?

  • http://www.svoka.com Shchvova / ЩВова

    This is impressive. Breadt Cancer is #1 sample in all AI classes, ML, if you know what I mean. Good girld just made it right, and actually implemented it with next lesson.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mayla.martini Mayla Martini

    it’s really amazing

  • Anonymous

    because one amazing woman made something clever… while about 60% of the american population mass believes in creationism.

  • Anonymous

    Thats not how a scholarship works Sarah… You don’t get to spend it on yourself, its usually held in trust until you pick an institute of tertiary study & then is used to pay for your course load… An considering a years course load expense at an american university is pretty high, 50k wont go far.

  • Anonymous

    doesn’t really matter. I mean sure its impressive that she got it to work, but if its only replicating the work of others, then thats not nearly as impressive.

  • Anonymous

    i consider that to be a positive… Because if you don’t have a stomach for competition then you are not going to cut it in the field of applied science… Between the peer revieiw process & grant submissions alone, you need to have nerves of steel.

    I swear that scientist is way up there with bomb squad member one the list of jobs that age you prematurely due to stress.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WCFQJ3CD7CK6SNGJQN57TDDNEI Toni

    as opposed to the big bang? yeah, those stupid masses.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/B7NM5HLY74USBV3XRYYAI4YP2Q Nicole

    But there is actual scientific data for the Big Bang. It isn’t some hoax that someone just dreamed up. Scientists have spent decades collecting data that continues to prove that the universe was created from a singularity. In fact, it is currently still growing.

  • Robert Forslund

    If Adam and Eve were the creators of mankind, wouldn’t we be a tad inbred? Who’s got the banjo Bubba? 
    http://www.addictinginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/creationism.jpg

  • Anonymous

    Hey kelly_warrior_princess, why you gotta shit on everyones comments? This is a great thing regardless and until your face is at the top of the page you can relax.

    p.s. God loves you!!

  • http://twitter.com/geek_dump Tony S.

    Actually… yes.

  • Anonymous

    Except that we’ve established that as a cosmological model, the big bang is consistent with our current scientific understanding… God dunnit, not so much so.

  • Anonymous

    That truly is inspiring, that to this girl the science fair was not just a stupid project the teachers made her do, but a chance to come up with something meaningful and practical for the world.  Well done, Brittany!

  • Sai Manoj Kumar Yadlapati

    It is not diagnosing, it is “Detecting”.

  • byhisgrace

     Wow..  60%?  I thought it would be much higher.  This is really depressing that so many people have been duped.  In the beginning…GOD

  • H.E. Katz

    I read elsewhere that her neural network is more accurate than three others.  So to say that she merely ‘replicated’ previous work, instead of adding anything of value of her own, is silly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mimiwal22 Amanda Walton

    Really everyone. Just be glad that someone that young even has the drive to try to do something like this. I work with teens on a daily basis and half of them lack any sort of enthusiasm or the want to create anything, half of the time they want to sit in front of the TV. She does deserve a scholarship and I am happy she got one. She does not get this money as it really goes towards her schooling. And school is expensive as I know because I personally have over a hundred thousand in debt from school, between undergrad and graduate school. I would rather someone like this get a scholarship in the hopes that she continues her research and actually makes something of herself and makes a difference in many womens lives as breast cancer is a big deal, DUH!! So for those who have to make negative comments look at where are youth are going today and also what is your positive impact on the world of research. Just asking. 

  • Anonymous

    Someone’s got to think critically.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. A few germane questions are in order for something like this :
    1. Is she the first person to use this information? 2. Why did the originators of this information gather it to begin with? Clearly they took it to do what she did. Except she did it after it had already been done. It’s always easier to follow in footsteps than it is to forge a new path. Well worn paths and whatnot.

    She’s getting to ride on the benefit of the past 20 years of innovation from computer scientists producing now free programming languages, compilers, and API’s, the creation of the internet, various readily available information on AI circa-2012, etc. She put in the work and I applaud her work ethic, but it hardly makes her the hero or savior articles are making her out to be.

  • Anonymous

    What’s silly is not understanding the information on the subject matter and assuming you do.

    Hers was more accurate than using other Neural Net *API’s*, which only means that she knew how to use hers better than theirs because she programmed her own. This is not the same as another solution utilizing the data she used being less accurate than hers. Big difference. If she knew how to use the others better the results based on her functions to produce the final weighted percentages would be the same.

    In other words, she wrote the formula to produce the end results and just didn’t know how to integrate it into other people’s tools to produce the same level of results. That’s all. It’s a more sophisticated version of knowing how to drive your own car best.

    The most impressive part of all this is not what it was utilized for, although I understand people want a hero or savior. It’s the fact that a 17 year old learned graph theory, a branch of mathematics used on everything from search rankings and relevance to map directions, well enough to program it. But, again. It’s easier to do it after it’s been done and well documented aka Programming by recipe.

  • Anonymous

    Replicating what’s been done in the past is not progress. It’s easy to look at this as some groundbreaking piece of work, when it’s really not. The information she used to do her project was not compiled for no reason. But her work ethic is noteworthy.