Two Teens Vie for the Grand Prize at the Google Science Fair

Daniela Lee and Sadhika Malladi teamed up on a project that may help patients with triple-negative breast cancer.
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Daniela Lee and Sadhika Malladi teamed up on a project that may help patients with triple-negative breast cancer.
Google Science Fair

Sadhika Malladi, left, and Daniela Lee. (Photo courtesy of Daniela Lee)

Who may have one of the toughest jobs in the world? The judges of this year's Google Science Fair, which takes place today. It won't be an easy task to select a grand prize winner from such a talented group of teenagers.

Daniela Lee and Sadhika Malladi, students at the Harker School in San Jose, California, are just two of the 18 global finalists who will be vying for the grand prize, which includes $50,000 in scholarship funds, a ten-day trip to the Galapagos Islands and a visit to the Virgin Galactic Spaceport. The awards ceremony will be live-streamed on YouTube starting at 7 pm PT tonight.

Not Impossible Now interviewed Lee, 17, and Malladi, 16, via email about how they teamed up for their project, which they hope can make a difference for patients with a triple-negative breast cancer. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Q: What inspired you to tackle a project about triple-negative breast cancer?

Lee: We heard about a project an outgoing post-doctoral fellow at Stanford did at a lab meeting. His work was very interesting, so we wanted to take it on and began brainstorming how we can expand on the work while potentially improving the results. 

Additionally, we both have close family members who had breast cancer and wanted to address such a relevant and pervasive issue of optimizing the patient experience. We also thought it would be really cool to have any part in saving lives.

Q: In basic terms, how does the non-invasive method that you are proposing differ from what is currently available for triple-negative breast cancer patients?

Lee: Currently, a biopsy (or surgical sample) must be taken of the tumor for diagnosis. Moreover, the current standard treatment for triple-negative breast cancer patients requires surgery due to the aggressive nature of the disease even if the patient achieved a complete response to previous chemotherapy. Our method attempts to non-invasively analyze the tumor texture to determine patient treatment response and optimize their treatment. 

Q: What advice do you have for younger students who are interested in science and technology and may have an idea for the Google Science Fair?

Lee: We honestly never knew we would come this far, so go for it. Gradually develop your idea into a project and see what happens! Science is a hard process, too, so don't be too frustrated if things aren't working out the way you would like. Sooner or later, you'll get used to this process and science will become a lifestyle. 

Malladi: If you have an idea that you’re passionate about, then just start working! Even if you aren’t sure about all the details in implementation, there are a lot of people at your school, such as teachers and upperclassmen, who can really help you along.

Q: Who is your hero or role model?

Lee: I find Ken Jeong's double career just fascinating. He went from being a serious medical doctor to a hilarious comedian who still renews his medical license from time to time. I also really look up to Marie Curie for being an amazing, incredible female scientist. She accomplished so much in her life regarding medical diagnosis techniques.

Malladi: My role models are my research mentors, past and present. They’re kind enough to take time out of their schedule to coach us along each project, and they’re incredibly brilliant. I aspire to be as humble and knowledgeable as they are.

Q: What job would you like to do in the future?

Lee: I would like to become a medical doctor, possibly a radiologist. Also, I hope to be involved in popularizing science by helping to create science videos. I enjoy "translating" complex science into laymen terms to help teach the public and also would like to fix science sensationalism seen in some media outlets.

Malladi: I hope to run a research lab. I think it’s interesting to conduct research and make discoveries that no one has before. It’s truly fulfilling for me.

Q: I'm sure you've put a lot of time into your Google Science Fair project as well as your schoolwork. But what do you do for fun when you have free time?

Lee: Sadhika and I are in jazz band. She plays the trombone, and I play the saxophone. Also, I'm currently co-captain of the varsity cheerleading team at my school and that's a lot of fun. I also have a special appreciation for good TV shows, so when I am trying to relax you can find me watching "Community" and "Bob's Burgers."

Malladi: I enjoy running a volunteer service called the Tutoring Network, where we tutor elementary school students in math. I also work as the president of programming club where we make fun competition-style problems and teach new algorithms. Finally, I play for the Harker soccer team as a goalie, which is really fun!

Lee and Malladi would like to thank the Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr. Adrien Depeursinge, Dr. Daniel Golden and Dr. Daniel Rubin for their help with their Google Science Fair project.     

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