Taking (Intel)ligence to a New Height
One of approximately 1,800 internationally selected finalists, junior Nitya Parthasarathy participated in the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineer Fair (ISEF) from May 14-19 in Los Angeles, California. The Northwood Howler sat down with Parthasarathy to discuss her passion for science, her science project, and her experiences at the Intel competition.
James Noh: What is the Intel ISEF competition? How were you selected?
Nitya Parthasarathy: The Intel International Science and Engineer Fair is an international competition held each year, and I met so many accomplished, young people from all over the world. I was even able to meet Manu Prakash, a Nobel Prize winner and advocate for making science not only for rich people with access to labs, but to everyone around the world who wants to make a positive change in the world. I was selected through my performance and county and state level science fairs. Using a project that I worked on for over a year, I placed first in the Behavioral Science category at both the county and state level, and with my performance there, Intel selected me as one of the over 1,700 internationally chosen finalists. After competing at Intel, I received a scholarship offer from University of Arizona and placed fourth in Behavioral Sciences with an honorable mention from the American Statistical Association.
JN: What was your project about?
NP: My project was about detecting gender bias in social media through artificial intelligence. I analyzed gender bias in movie reviews gathered from the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and from Amazon. I created an algorithm to detect “positive” and “negative” words used to describe male and female movie characters. Through my project, I looked at how closely the movie reviews enforce female and male gender stereotypes in their word choice, and found that while males are characterized with a variety of descriptions associated with both male and female characters including “strong,” “kind” and “beautiful,” females are characterized only with “kind” and “beautiful” but not “strong.” My algorithm highlights words that are determined as biased and tells if they are gendered or not, leading to a bias check. Using any type of text such as political speeches and books, the bias check can not only be applied to gender, but also other social biases like race and age, so I believe it has limitless applications.
JN: What inspired your project choice?
NP: After hearing Meryl Streep talk about about gender bias in Rotten Tomatoes, something sparked in me and I really became interested in the topic and developed my project idea. I remember competing in previous science fairs with topics that I wasn’t interested in and just for the sake of competing, and I never had any success or results, so I felt really down for a while about my abilities as a scientist. However, once I started to pursue science on things I was truly interested in, I had so much more success and enjoyed it every step of the way, so I want to encourage students to keep trying for science fairs and competitions regardless of the results and to remember why you fell in love with science in the first place.
JN: How did Intel ISEF impact you?
NP: Intel ISEF taught me a newfound appreciation of science and reinstated the love that I lost for science due to stress from academics at school. It rekindled my passion for science, exactly like how Mr. Dickson did when I took his class. Intel ISEF was a life-changing experience because I realized that I can do something, I can do research for the rest of my life, and I can make an impact on society, and that was something that was intangible for me until this week. I really encourage anyone interested in science to apply for Intel, because it’s truly an opportunity of a lifetime.