Intel STS 2016.Last Wednesday at a gala celebration in Washington, D.C., nine students were named winners of the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search, the prestigious competition sometimes called the “Junior Nobel Prize” that honors U.S. high school seniors who have conducted sophisticated, original research in math or science. Of those nine, five were CTYers.

Maya Varma, a CTYer from Cupertino, California, who received one of the three first-place awards, began her project two years ago with the help of a 2014 CTY Cogito Research Award, which provides winners with a small grant to purchase materials and a virtual mentor to help them complete a project they propose in their award application.

Maya designed an inexpensive smartphone-based spirometer that people can use at home to monitor the five most prevalent pulmonary Illnesses: asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, restrictive lung disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She hopes her device can help treat people in parts of developing countries that might not have access to traditional spirometers, which typically cost hundreds of dollars. “The award has been instrumental in helping me work on my project and finish it,” Maya said last year when she presented her project at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. “The financial support helped me greatly to buy the tablet as well as the electronics parts. The most important part was pairing with me my mentor; he has been extremely helpful in answering all my questions.”

Picture of Maya Varma.

Maya will receive $150,000, as will CTY student Amol Punjabi, of Marlborough, Massachusetts, who also won a first place award for creating software that could help drug makers develop new therapies for cancer and heart disease. Michael Zhang and Miland Jagota, also CTY students, won second-place awards and $75,000 each. Michael engineered tiny virus-like particles to deliver gene-modifying proteins to target cells for medical therapy by altering the genome of those cells in a controlled way. Miland won for his work replacing an expensive material used in touch screens with a cheaper material that could lower the cost of iPads and other electronic devices. A third-place award went to another awesome CTYer, Kunal Shroff, who researched the biology of Huntington’s disease.—Kristi Birch