Streams

Exploring Points Where Science Meets Life and Death Reality

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 04:00 AM

WNYC

The author is one of three students from New York City to win the chance to compete at the Intel international science and engineering fair underway in Phoenix, AZ. The others are Nicole Simineri and Patrick Colossi, both seniors at Staten Island Technical High School. The competition runs through May 17.

I hated science when I was a kid. I liked sports, especially running and basketball. I definitely did not expect to spend my last year of high school working every day on a project called, "The Brink of Life and Death: Survival Analysis of Intensive Care Unit Variables and Their Effects on Mortality."

The title of my project alone would have caused a 10-year-old version of myself to roll his eyes in disgust. For a long time, science and engineering existed only in textbooks for me, disconnected from the rest of the world. This all changed when I was 12, and I happened upon an old toolbox and small dash of inspiration.

I had always wanted a tree house. No matter that I didn’t have a tree in my yard. I did have enough room to build a small wooden fort with some leftover wooden boards and a table cloth. Over the summer, while all my friends were playing in the park, I spent my afternoons putting together my fort, piece by piece, and it was an incredible experience. It was then that I realized what engineering meant to me.

Engineering is the shaping of resources to the needs and aspirations of humanity. Engineers must have a vision and the aptitude to achieve that vision. Engineering requires technical aptitude as well as interpersonal skills, as no individual effort is ever as successful or innovative as that of a team. Thus, the true essence of engineering lies in the ability to channel the combined efforts of one’s resources into the fulfillment of a goal.

If engineering was a game of basketball, then science was the slam dunks, the three-point jump shots, and the behind-the-back turnaround bank shot. Scientific research provides the tools and techniques that have allowed ambitious people to cure diseases, invent machines and shape the world within which we live. Science is the moves behind your game; it is what makes progress possible.

With this in mind, I set out to solve a problem that had profound personal implications for me. In my life, I have watched several people die in emergency rooms and, at times, I’ve wondered if the outcome could have been different if some slight detail had changed. Perhaps the doctors hadn’t noticed a spike in blood pressure, or not enough water was being given.

I wanted to know exactly what went on in an emergency room and how exactly doctors made decisions as their patients hung on the brink of life and death. I discovered that in intensive care units, medical professionals use software that takes into account measurements, such as heart rate and blood pressure, and produces a number that shows how close to death a patient is. The problem was that the software was developed 30 years ago and did not consider a wide range of patient types or measurements that could have an effect on a patient’s health. This meant that doctors could potentially be treating their patients using inaccurate data.

Mistakes were being made and lives were at stake.

Making use of statistics from a newly completed study and my experience with software engineering, I developed my own computer program that improves upon the ones that are currently used. My program takes into account three times as many variables as real-life programs, and more importantly, it presents doctors with a list of potential causes of illness based on the measurements entered into the program.

Within one year, I made an improvement that could potentially save thousands of lives. This only has reaffirmed my belief that scientific research and engineering can help me attain my goals and make a difference. I am currently working with several professors to fine-tune my work. It is my goal to one day release this program for free to hospitals across the world. That way people like me could spend time with those they are close with, rather than hold them as memories of the past.

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