From School Science Fairs to Designing a Smartphone App That Diagnoses Malaria

These grad students designed Lifelens, an app that lets you snap picture of a blood sample to determine if it's infected with malaria.

What if you could take a picture of a blood sample with your smartphone and have an app tell you if someone has malaria. That's exactly what Lifelens, a breakthrough technology project designed by five young recent college grads and graduate students is able to do. Given the mortality rates of malaria across the developing world, the technology has the potential to save millions of lives.

The five creators of the app—Wilson To, Jason Wakizaka, Tristan Gibeau, Cy Khormaee, and Helena Xu—range in age from 23 to 31, and hail from different parts of the country. They collaborated online over the past year to design Lifelens and the app won a finalist spot in Microsoft's Imagine Cup, a technology competition for socially conscious high school and college students happening next month in New York City (we've covered other finalists here and here). I caught up with the Lifelens team to find out exactly how they got their start in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and what their plans are for distributing the app worldwide.

GOOD: When you were kids, what first inspired you to become involved in STEM?

LIFELENS: The annual science fair brought about a way to showcase some of the various interests that we, as children, wanted to pursue. From writing our first lines of code that spelled “Hello, world” to measuring gravity using rudimentary tools, being surrounded by science and technology inspired us to become involved in STEM.

GOOD: What do you think schools and governments should be doing to get more students interested in STEM fields?

LIFELENS: Students are often taught that the understanding of history affects future political landscapes, appreciation for art creates culture, and the mastery of sports and performance art can lead to fame—but there needs to be the acknowledgment that the games we stay up all night playing, devices that regulate our heartbeat, and phones that become an extension of our identity are all developed by innovators from the fields of STEM.

GOOD: How and when did you first come up with the idea for Lifelens and how long did it take you to develop it?

LIFELENS: Global health has always been a driving factor for the team. Last year, there was a team emphasis to develop solutions for the domestic health crisis around diabetes mellitus. However, after attending the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in 2010 the team learned about many of the global problems that students from other countries were addressing. Needless to say, after returning from Warsaw, Poland the team set their sights on developing technologies to help combat malaria. The project has been in development for a little less than a year and has been driven by a passion to both inspire the next generation of mobile healthcare solutions, as well as more immediate solutions in providing basic screening services to low resource environments.

GOOD: So how exactly does the app work?

LIFELENS: With the phone's camera, a user can take pictures of blood smears and do image analysis on them and count cells and map them and determine if someone has malaria.

GOOD: Do you have investors interested and what's your plan for making the app available?

LIFELENS: The team is in the final round of funding talks with two venture groups to secure early-stage funding to conduct extensive in-lab testing and on-field pilot studies. In the health care realm, medical teams from Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, West Africa, and India have expressed a strong desire to collaborate on the future direction and implementation. In the political realm, Lifelens was invited to discuss the project with government and private sector delegates at the ICT Africa Summit this October in Pretoria, South Africa.

GOOD: What are you most excited to experience at the Imagine Cup?

LIFELENS: The best part of the competition is without a doubt the opportunity to meet other teams and gain greater exposure to the issues that communities face around the world. Our team is constantly inspired by what young students are creating and incredibly honored to be amongst such a talented group of teams in New York.

We'll be interviewing our other top picks of the best student projects competing in the Imagine Cup over the coming weeks.

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less