Can an AI outperform the HSE in cervical screenings?

11 Jan 2019

Laura O’Sullivan, fifth-year student at Mount Mercy College, Cork. Image: Luke Maxwell

On the final day of judging at the BY Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, students presented projects on a variety of subjects, from using eggshells to filter water to using an AI to conduct cervical screenings.

The air crackles with excitement as the final day of judging dawns on the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) 2019. Students have gathered in Dublin’s RDS from more than 230 schools dotted around the island, all of whom are now waiting with anxious excitement as the prize-giving ceremony nears.

Of course, everybody hopes to scoop a coveted award. Today (11 January) is their last opportunity to make their case. Yet as maudlin a sentiment as it may be, though not all projects will be rewarded, all should be celebrated.

All of the 550 projects on display demonstrate an incredibly potent mix of enthusiasm, incisive intelligence and a desire to better our world. Seeing the offerings of the younger generation is the exact kind of life affirmation needed in these times in which geopolitical tension, impending climate disaster and more can easily inspire hopelessness.

On day one, we learned about a broad swathe of fascinating topics such as antibiotic resistance in household pets, a hydroponic system for growing plants on the moon, the lion’s mane jellyfish invasion of Ireland and how to simulate quantum computing.

Meanwhile, on day two, we got to hear more about greener jet fuel, new car safety sensors, the effect of social media on mental health and an alternative to rote learning.

AIs could help cervical screenings

The CervicalCheck scandal, which first broke in April 2018, captured the public imagination and inspired widespread outrage. For Laura O’Sullivan, a fifth-year student at Mount Mercy College in Cork, it inspired her entry to this year’s exhibition.

“I was looking at using artificial intelligence for cervical cancer screening. I applied a different combination of neural networks to my data set. It was a data set consisting of abnormal and normal cells from a hospital in Denmark,” she said.

Her endeavour was, by all accounts, a rousing success. Using computer vision algorithms, O’Sullivan was able to produce screening results that were more accurate than the ones produced by the current system in place.

“I had very good results. I was able to reduce the amount of false negatives outputted by my results.”

She added: “This is only in the very early stages, but there’s definitely potential for this to be used in the future.”

Walking (and filtering) on eggshells

Seán Byrne, a sixth year from Avondale Community College in Wicklow, wouldn’t be blamed for wanting to take the time to focus on his impending Leaving Certificate exam. Yet the Young Scientist veteran (this is Byrne’s fourth time participating in the event) returned with a fascinating examination of how a common piece of household waste, the humble eggshell, could be used to filter heavy metals and microplastics from water.

“I was able to get up to 100pc reduction in lead, chromium, cadmium and copper … With microplastics, I was able to get up to 33pc reduction from a sample of water.”

Byrne also noted that the device could be helpful in developing countries due to its low cost. The construction only set Byrne back €50, the most expensive component being the wood for the structure.

Teeth grinding and other habits

Liah Cremin’s father grinds his teeth at night and he’s not alone. Cremin, a fourth-year student in Coláiste Choilm in Cork, says that estimates indicate that as many as between 8pc and 31pc of the population have the condition known as ‘bruxism’.

Cremin believes that one of the main issues, besides that there is no cure, is that there is a general lack of awareness among those living with bruxism. Often, a dentist will spot the condition before the individual themselves, and often only the most severe cases are spotted after a lot of damage has already been done. For this, she offers a solution.

“My device uses piezoelectric polymer … When stress is applied, it releases an electrical cause [and] we are able to pick up a reading. It sends a response to a communication and you can actually see when you are grinding or clenching your teeth,” she explained.

“If you actually understand when, you can take the action to control [bruxism] and help control [it] in future.”

Cremin’s work in this area won’t stop after the exhibition ends this year. She has lofty ambitions for the project and hopes to eventually integrate her device with wearable tech such as the Fitbit range.

The adolescent reaction to #MeToo

The #MeToo movement has had, and continues to have, a massive global impact. It incited a seismic wave of social change and broadly increased awareness surrounding sexual harassment, consent and sexual assault. Yet three students from Ursuline Secondary School, Cork – Kelli Oldham, Michelle Board and Eva Mc Donnell – noticed that there was a dearth of research into how this movement had impacted adolescents.

“We thought it was important to do research in this area because the #MeToo movement is so topical,” said Oldham.

Their research revealed a gulf of understanding. Teenagers were inclined to underestimate the prevalence of sexual harassment and there were significant differences in what teenagers felt constituted harassment based on gender.

Mc Donnell said: “We also found that the genders don’t have conversations about what constitutes sexual harassment. When we asked if they considered catcalling sexual harassment, about 70pc of females said yes but only 44pc of males.”

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic