Editor's note: We're celebrating this year's impressive 20 Google Science Fair finalist projects over 20 days in our Spotlight on a Young Scientist series. Learn more about each of these inspiring young people and hear what inspires them in their own words.

Name: Tanay Tandon

Age Category: 16-18

Home: US

Project: Delivering rapid, portable and automated blood morphology tests

Tanay loved hearing his grandfather’s stories of serving patients as a doctor in rural India, but he couldn’t believe that people had to wait in long lines for tests that were easily available in more developed countries. He was inspired to take action after reading a book on informational theory. He sent the authors several emails before receiving a response from a grad student who agreed to work with him. Tanay then wrote an algorithm and created a computer vision model. He attached a low-cost lens imaging system in order to algorithmically classify and count cells in a blood sample. This tool can now provide a rapid, portable and automated blood morphology test in the most rural regions. 

What was the inspiration behind your project? 

My grandfather was a doctor in rural India and owned his own clinic. Over the years, my mother told me stories of villagers who would line up to get blood biopsies at his clinic, often showing up incredibly early in the morning. This helped me realize the disparity in rural diagnostic conditions (especially for complex internal conditions) and the need for a portable, automated means to analyze blood, especially in areas where trained microbiologists and expensive equipment are scarce. Thus, this project has been a long term goal of mine, and as I have conducted separate research in hematology, machine learning and computer vision, my skills and experience have culminated in this one piece representing my work in the fields of AI and biology.

When and why did you become interested in science? 

My interest in science has always stemmed from a love of reading. Some of my earliest memories are sitting with my father and pouring over a book about constellations and astronomy. The concept of finding patterns in seemingly endless swathes of stars was how I got started in the scientific process. Eventually, I abstracted that love for pattern-finding to other fields like math, computer science and artificial intelligence. In my opinion, that in itself is a succinct summary of science – looking at some chaotic system and deciphering meaning through the skills at hand. Whether one does that with a microscope, a computer program or a pencil and paper, the process is essentially the same – a different means to an end, but a very similar end overall.

What words of advice would you share with other young scientists? 

Research is all about building a palette of interests and mixing and matching the colors to create something new. Nearly all of my project ideas originate at the confluence of two or more fields – microbiology and artificial intelligence (this project), engineering and chemistry (my portable water treatment project a few years ago). I'd encourage young scientists to diversify their interests, build a love for several fields and then see what beautiful things come from their confluence.