She Taught a Computer to Fight Cancer

Kate Gramling Posted on November 14, 2012 by Kate Gramling
She Taught a Computer to Fight Cancer

Brittany Wenger from Sarasota, Florida won the 2012 Google Science Fair by creating an artificial neural network capable of helping doctors detect breast cancer.  

In an interview with Scientific American, Brittany explained:

I taught the computer how to diagnose breast cancer so it could determine whether a breast mass is malignant or benign. I did this because currently the least invasive form of biopsy is actually the least conclusive. So a lot of doctors can’t use it.

Brittany created an artificial neural network, which is a type of computer program that "learns" from experience.  By feeding the network data from a medical database, she has been able to run millions of trials and the network is getting very good at detecting cancer.  Like an engineer working in one field can make a difference in another, Brittany used her computer skills to create a medical tool that could eventually improve the health and well-being of thousands of people. 

Engineering achievements are often just that: creating or applying technologies to solve a problem.  And it's never too early to start:

I started in the 7th grade. In school we were researching the future, and my part of the future that I was researching was future technologies.  I grew fascinated by artificial intelligence, which I came across. I went home that night, and I bought a computer programming book and, with no experience, decided that was what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

Brittany adds:

My first artificial neural network had to do with soccer. I’m an avid soccer player. I taught the computer when it should pass, when it should dribble; it was a mini soccer game, two on two. When you’re passionate about something you’ll be persistent and really enjoy it.

Check out the Google Science Fair site for more information about her project.

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