Google Science Fair Finalist Invents Cheap Lung Cancer Screening Breathalyzer

Finalist hopes his research increases the rate of lung cancer screening and reduces the use of CT scans

1 min read
This $15 breathalyzer uses a sensor constructed by a Malaysian teen to detect early lung cancer
Photo: Tekla Perry

Eighteen-year-old Zheng Xin Yong, from Malaysia, was stunned when he learned his nonsmoking math teacher had advanced lung cancer. That’s why, for his Google Science Fair project, he set out to develop a low-cost, easy-to-use screening test for early stage lung cancer.

He came up with a combination of tetracosane and carbon powder that changes resistance according to alkane levels in air. Alkane, sometimes called paraffin, is a naturally occurring product of oxidation and is dramatically higher in the breath of people with lung cancer than those with healthy lungs.

Yong says each sensor costs about 15 U.S. cents to produce, and his entire breathalyzer-style system costs about $15; the only comparable device he’s seen is an electronic nose that costs thousands of dollars, he says.

To date, Yong has successfully tested his system on 37 subjects, 12 lung cancer patients, 12 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, and 13 nonsmokers without known lung disease. He’s hoping his research reduces the use of CT scans for lung cancer screening and increases the rate of screening in general.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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