Two Pleasanton teens headed to compete in Intel's international science fair

Both exploring ways of fighting cancer as their projects

Two Pleasanton high school students are hoping their projects designed to help in the fight against cancer will bring them awards at this year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

In separate projects, Rahul Doraiswami, an 11th-grade student at Foothill High School, and Harikrishna Rallapalli, a 12th-grader at Amador Valley High, used high-tech bio-tech to win locally, giving them each a chance to compete on the national stage.

This is Rallapalli's third win at Amador Valley. He took home the top prize for a project called "Low-Cost Polarization Based GFP Viewer."

He came up with the idea as an intern last summer at Stanford University. His idea is to track the cells that eventually grow into a tumor.

"What you can do is try and trace which stem cell it comes from," Rallapalli explained. "The problem is there isn't a really successful tracking method."

Using a fluorescent gene that stays with cancer cells as they divide, Rallapalli found a way to view it with a polarized filter.

Doraiswami came up with a diagnostic tool for prostate cancer using a computer model, called an artificial neural network, that "learns." Over time, like a doctor learns to spot the symptoms of a disease, Doriswami's project can learn to diagnose prostate cancer.

"ANN is a type of computer software that simulates how our brain works," Doraiswami said. "I think this can be used in a clinical setting."

He said he was motivated to explore prostate cancer after his grandfather was diagnosed with it.

Both teens are looking forward to Intel ISEF 2010, which is set for May 9-14.

For Doraiswami, Intel ISEF is about "meeting people from around the world, (and) making new connections as well as seeing the different ideas that people have."

Rallapalli is glad the fair is being held locally.

"It's going to be a lot more fun. The San Jose fair is expected to be the biggest Intel ISEF in history," he said.

Both are hopeful but cautious. Doriswami, for example, was reluctant to talk too much about his chance for winning because he didn't want to jinx himself.

Rallapalli – competing for the third time – said he didn't even think his project would win the local competition.

Even if they don't take home the top prize, both say they're excited about the practical applications of their projects. Both are planning careers in biotechnology.

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Like this comment
Posted by Go Pleasanton!
a resident of Canyon Oaks
on May 6, 2010 at 8:20 am

Congrats to Doraiswami and Rallapalli! You'll do a fine job representing Foothill and Amador High Schools! Go Pleasanton schools!

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on May 6, 2010 at 8:25 am

Go for it students....HOORAY!

Like this comment
Posted by Amador Mom
a resident of Ruby Hill
on May 6, 2010 at 10:09 am

Congratulations to both young men! We are extremely proud of you and wish you the best of luck at the Science Fair -- and in your future careers.

Like this comment
Posted by Jeri Ann
a resident of Mohr Park
on May 6, 2010 at 10:47 am

Congratulations and Good Luck!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Pleasanton Mom
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 6, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Love to read such positive stories about Pleasanton's young people! Congrats to both science fair winners, as well as their families and teachers. Wow!

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Siena
on May 6, 2010 at 8:08 pm

These students get a TON of help. Sure they may be smart kids, but they didn't do it on their own. They need to find someone to "sponsor" them and they get projects given to them in order to have a good chance at winning. Along with that comes a lot of help and advice. I wouldn't look at them as geniuses.

Like this comment
Posted by letsgo
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 6, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Apparently "anonymous" has no idea about the real world these days. Yes, there are kids in 2nd grade that "get a ton of help" on their science project. I do not know these two students, but I have no some others from the area, and the kids that are part of the Intel Science Fair receive little or no help from others. There really are smart kids out there who are going to save the world. Honestly, I don't think some Dad who works at some local diotech lab could handle the complexity of some of these students projects. Now anonymous may just be jealous are whatever, but these students truly deserve the respect and accolades that they have earned.

Like this comment
Posted by to anonymous
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 9, 2010 at 11:37 am

To Anonymous, I agree that to get to this level they need mentoring. I assume that is what you mean by a ton of help. You will not get to this level by just taking our normal science classed at school. Mr. Rallapalli has helped in our schools by mentoring students on science. He has the expertise and passion to teach this to our kids in a way where the kids get excited about it. The student, Rallapalli, I have met before and he is real smart. When you talk with him, you know that he understands what he is talking about. Not sure how you classify a "genius". But for a student of this ago to be able to do what he is doing, if not a genius, it is darn close. My hats off to this students. They will be our future leaders in science. I also hope that Mr. Rallapalli runs for school board again as his ideas on improving the schools through community involvement, instead of just throwing money at the problem, are fantastic.

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