Catherine Wong is a 17-year-old student (with a perfect SAT score) and the inventor of the first cellphone-compatible electrocardiogram (ECG) test. The New Jersey Morristown High School student's cellphone ECG system could give nearly 2 billion people living in the world's most rural and impoverished countries access to this basic test.
We recently caught up with the engineering wiz at an industry event, where she told us some surprising facts about herself.
While Wong is an award-winning designer of the Bluetooth-enabled heart exam, she doesn't own a smartphone. It may be surprising that a high school student does not have the latest iPhone or Android device by choice. She says she got her first mobile phone in the sixth grade.
"I didn't have a smartphone and I still don't have a smartphone for myself," Wong says. "It's a would-be Blackberry, not Internet-enabled."
In her work, she relies on simple cellphones. The aspiring biomedical engineer created the cellphone-based version of the traditional ECG, which is like taking a "magnifying glass" to your heart. The scan enlarges the tiny electrical signals created by your heart as it beats and maps it on a real-time graph.
The cellphone ECG can connect individuals, without access to regular healthcare, to doctors miles away. Wong was a finalist in the Google Science Fair this year, and won NPR's Big Idea Contest, the Air Force Research Laboratory Special Award, as well as other national awards and honors for her cellular electrocardiogram prototype.
Wong is passionate about leveraging the global ubiquity of mobile phones to reach communities in underdeveloped countries. She frequently cites this popular statistic about cellphone usage in India: There are more mobile phones than toilets for the country's 1.2 billion population, according to the United Nations. It's estimated that one in seven people in the world have access to a mobile phone.
"There's a huge swath of population that hasn't been addressed in terms of technology," Wong told Mashable. "We are only beginning to see that this is where we can make a change."
The cellphone system transmits real-time scans over cellular networks to medical professionals. All patients need to do is attach three electrodes to their bodies, and wait for the bluetooth-enabled microprocessor board to convert the analog data numbers based on small electrical pulses created by your heart. The pictures can be transmitted through Bluetooth onto simple Java-enabled cell phones.
"It's going to send [the scans] over the phone wirelessly, and it's going to display that in real time," Wong said. "The goal is to make it a regular ECG, but on a mobile phone."
Wong aims to further develop the system, get heart specialists on board and market the heart-monitor app.
"I'd like to focus on developing areas," she said. "I think the way to reach people is to use the technology that's so widely accepted and adopted. What you build for that platform, you've already crossed the first hurdle of getting that technology integrated in the area."
Image courtesy of The Mary Sue