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Plano East Twins Win First Place at National Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology

December 6, 2016

Plano East Senior High School students, Adhya and Shriya Beesam, win $100,000 top team award in national competition

Adhya and Shriya Beesam at Plano East Science Department

For Adhya and Shriya Beesam their winning journey began on October 28 with their regional finalist award in the 2016 Siemens Competition. In November they achieved national finalist and on December 6 at the 2016 Siemens Competition awards presentation at George Washington University in Washington, DC, twin sisters Adhya Beesam and Shriya Beesam, juniors at Plano East Senior High School, were awarded the $100,000 grand prize in the team category for their work developing a new approach to diagnose schizophrenia earlier in patients with higher certainty using both brain scans and psychiatric evaluations. Their project is titled: Linked Neuro-Fuzzy Inference System: A Novel Approach to Schizophrenia Diagnosis. See the project abstract.

Video courtesy of WFAA:

These two dedicated students researched a better ways to diagnose schizophrenia after watching an uncle struggle with mental illness and several misdiagnoses before being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Eventually, they lost their uncle to suicide. Driven by the desire to help others be more quickly diagnosed and access better mental health treatment earlier, they taught themselves about schizophrenia and methods of diagnosing this illness. The diagnosis of schizophrenia has historically been based largely on psychiatric evaluations—which are primarily based on observation and conversations—and ruling out other possible diagnoses. The development of tests, such as MRIs or CT scans have accelerated testing, but integrating these two approaches offered hope for faster, more accurate diagnosis.

Armed with this knowledge, they developed a computer program that would analyze the results of both quantitative (MRI) tests and qualitative tests (psychiatric evaluation by a professional, known as Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale – PANNS.) Adhya and Shriya combined an approach known as “fuzzy logic,” with another method known as “neural networks” to combine the information in the brain scans and psychiatric evaluations in an intelligent manner that results in remarkably accurate results.

"Adhya and Shriya Beesam showed extreme resourcefulness as they taught themselves the scientific literature related to Schizophrenia, clinical methods and machine learning algorithms,” said Badrinath Roysam, Professor and Chair at the Cullen College of Engineering’s Electrical & Computer Engineering Department at the University of Houston. This was student science driven by passion, curiosity, tenacity and courage.” The Beesam sisters did not have an official mentor but had support from Julie Baker, a teacher in the Biology department at Plano East Senior High School.

The Beesams’ approach also has the potential to improve the diagnosis of many other brain disorders and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

photo of PESH teacher Julie Baker, Adhya and Shriya Beesam and PESH Principal George King

From left to right: Plano East AP Biology Teacher Jule Baker, Adhya Beesam, Shriya Beesam and Plano East Principal George King

The Siemens Competition, launched in 1999 by the Siemens Foundation, was established to increase access to higher education for students who are gifted in STEM and is based on the culture of innovation, research and educational support that is the hallmark of Siemens. This competition, administered by Discovery Education, seeks to recognize and hopefully build a strong pipeline for the nation’s most promising scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

About the Siemens Foundation

The Siemens Foundation has invested more than $90 million in the United States to advance workforce development and education initiatives in science, technology, engineering and math. The Foundation’s mission is inspired by the culture of innovation, research and continuous learning that is the hallmark of Siemens’ companies. Together, the programs at the Siemens Foundation are helping close the opportunity gap for young people in the U.S. when it comes to STEM careers, and igniting and sustaining today’s STEM workforce and tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.

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November 15, 2016

Siemens logoDuring the regional finalist phase of the Siemens Science Competition, twins Adhya and Shriya Beesam, IB World School students at Plano East Senior High School, won the $6,000 team scholarship for developing a new approach to diagnose schizophrenia earlier in patients using both brain scans and psychiatric evaluation.

As part of their project they developed a computer algorithm that aims to diagnose schizophrenia earlier in patients and with a higher certainty. The central aspect of their study is that it combines the results of brain imaging technology, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with a traditional psychiatric assessment questionnaire, known as the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANNS).

They now will continue as National Finalist in the final phase of the competition and will travel to Washington D.C. to compete on December 2-6, for scholarships up to $100,000. Karen Shepherd, secondary science coordinator said, "National Finalist is a very exciting place to be. We wish them luck, but are confident that they are well prepared for continued success."

"This year’s competitors continue to impress me with the level of expertise they’ve acquired on their topics," said David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation. "The creativity and vision of these young researchers give us great hope for the future of the scientific enterprise."

At the national level of competition, finalist are required to attend and participate in the following:

  • A 12-minute oral presentation about the research and findings
  • A private, 12-minute question-and-answer sessions with the judges
  • An exhibition of the project's printed poster

Finalists are evaluated on these items, in addition to their research report.

Adhya and Shriya Beesam IB World School students and Siemens Science competition Regional Finalists

Adhya (left) and Shriya Beesam, Siemens Science Competition Regional Finalist

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October 28, 2016

A team of two Plano ISD students achieved regional finalists in the Siemens Science Competition. Of 498 national semifinalists, 15 were from Plano ISD.

From this group of 498 semifinalists, 96 will continue on to the next level of competition as regional finalists. This elite group of regional finalists includes two students from Plano ISD -- twins Adhya and Shriya Beesam, IB World School students at Plano East Senior High School.

Shriya and Adhya have a personal passion for science. Entering and winning science fairs since third grade, they took one year out of competition (as an experiment of course). After the gap year, they decided they missed the competition and needed to continue their science fair journey. They enjoy not only the research but also the connections they have made within the science fair community.

Their research project, entered in the National Siemens Science Competition, is also a personal passion. With an uncle who struggled with schizophrenia that was not diagnosed at an early stage and his tragic death, they saw the need for study in the area of mental health. Mental illness is sometimes not actually treated as an illness in the diagnosis stage. Their project involves a medical diagnostic inference system to predict the likelihood of a patient having schizophrenia. See the project abstract.

When asked what advice they had for other science fair participants. They both said, “Just don’t give up. Don’t think it’s too complicated or too hard. We thought our project was really complex, and we didn’t know what to do sometimes, but we thought -- no harm in trying.” They also mentioned that science fair projects should not be just about the competition. “Don’t just pick something you think will win. Your project should be about your motivation to explore and find out. Research what truly inspires you.”

Adhya and Shriya sincerely thank those that have been with them on their science fair journey, especially their parents for inspiring and encouraging them. They also wish to thank Julie Baker, Plano East AP Biology teacher and their science fair coordinator, for her expert guidance and support, and the science fair community as a group for the fun, the passion and the experiences shared throughout their years of science fair competitions.

As a winning team these two young women understand that the work you do opens up the possibilities. That can-do attitude got them where they are now. They admit to feeling, “happy and surprised” that they have made it so far. Their teacher and science fair sponsor, Ms. Baker, has high praise for them, “These two young ladies are amazing. They are extremely driven and determined when it comes to their research, and I am just so excited that they have been selected as Siemens Regional Finalists. It is an outstanding accomplishment.”

Shriya and Adhya will continue competing as regional finalists in one of six regional competitions virtually hosted over three consecutive weekends in November. Winners of the regional events will then advance to the final phase of the competition. National Finals will be held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in December where $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including two top prizes of $100,000. A complete list of finalists and their projects will be available at www.siemens-foundation.org preceding each regional event held in November.

About the Siemens Science Competition

The Siemens Foundation established the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology in 1999. The competition is the nation’s premiere science research competition for high school students and seeks to promote excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects. It fosters intensive research that improves students' understanding of the value of scientific study and informs their consideration of future careers in these disciplines.

Project Abstract:

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that drastically alters a person’s perception and actions until the patient becomes harmful to oneself or to others. The aim of this project was to develop a medical diagnostic inference system to accurately predict the likelihood of a patient having schizophrenia. Based on the PANSS psychiatric assessment results and MRI neuroimaging data, a comprehensive diagnostic tool was created. Three fuzzy logic systems and an ANFIS system were made. The PANSS system determined clusters of PANSS questions and calculated the likelihood based on the score for each cluster. The MRI system segmented the MRIs into grey matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid, and the likelihood was determined based on the volumes of each segment. Initially, a linked fuzzy system was created that took the PANSS and MRI systems and created an overall likelihood based on their outcomes. Later, an Adaptive Neuro-Fuzzy Inference System was created using the same inputs and was determined to have a higher accuracy than the fuzzy system. This project is a tool that can be utilized by psychiatrists to solidify the diagnosis process and hopefully spur an advancement in technology and methods utilized for mental illnesses worldwide.

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