For people who can’t speak, communicating with brain waves may be the wave of the future.
Shaker High School senior Angela Wang’s research in that area helped her win selection as one of 40 finalists nationwide in the Intel Science Talent Search 2012.
Wang has been working with the University at Albany’s Wadsworth Center on computer technology being developed to help handicapped people communicate by linking their brain wave responses to “yes” or “no” questions on a computer screen. Wang helped write software programs that can help people interact with the computer.
“We write programs that have algorithms that can kind of conform to each person’s brain specifically because each person’s brain is a little bit different,” she said.
She said she first became interested in the research when she saw the Wadsworth laboratory showcased in a piece on the television news magazine “60 Minutes.”
“It seemed like something from almost science fiction,” she said.
Participants have to wear a device resembling a swimming cap with wires coming out of it that is connected to an amplifier. Words like “yes” and “no” are on the screen, and brain waves respond when they look at the word they want to choose to answer the question.
Wang said she spent a year analyzing the best locations to capture the brain waves.
She said the application is for people with afflictions like Lou Gehrig’s disease who cannot communicate because they lack muscle control.
“It’s not the most sophisticated method of communication, but it’s something for them to communicate,” she said.
Wang started on the project during her sophomore year and has been working on it during summers. She was prompted to enter the Intel competition because she knew of other students who had participated.
She said she was very happy when she found out she was a finalist.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was screaming and so excited,” she said.
The next step is competing in Washington, D.C., the week of March 8-13. She has to bring posters and materials to present to judges and the public.
A total of $630,000 in prizes is up for grabs, with the top winner receiving $100,000.
Wang has been accepted at Princeton University, and she said she will probably attend the Ivy League school. She would like to study computer science or applied math, with her dream job to be a researcher.
Wang keeps busy with a wide variety of extracurricular activities. She is chief editor of the school newspaper, plays violin in the Empire State Youth Orchestra and is involved with the community education and service club New Global Citizens.