Each year the Intel Science Talent Search offers an opportunity for the brightest high school seniors around the country to compete against one another by presenting original research to nationally recognized professional scientists. This year, the second place spot went to seventeen year old Michelle Hackman of Great Neck, New York, whose research project is very near and dear to our hearts. Michelle studied the effect of separating teenagers from their cell phones. She based her idea off of a market research study, which focused on how people experienced increased anxiety levels when separated from their phones.
As part of her research, she isolated 150 high school students for 45 minutes each at a time. She separated these teens into two groups. One group had their cell phones with them while being left alone in a room, and the other did not. Before performing this experiment, she anticipated that the teens who would be left alone without their phones would experience anxiety. Instead, just the opposite happened. It turned out that many of the teens without phones fell asleep in the room and that their anxiety levels didn’t rise much at all. What happened was that rather then their anxiety levels increasing from not having a mobile phone around, they ended up becoming under-stimulated. This helped Michelle reach other conclusions and theories, most notably of which is the fact that cell phone users are addicted to their phones, much as if it were a drug addiction. Michelle says that the most effective comparison she can offer is that text messages for cell phone users are sudden bursts of stimulation, kind of like hits of cocaine. Getting a text message is like getting a high, and when we’re not getting them, we’re craving them. Hackman explains that her behavioral and social sciences research project focused on cell phones, but that her tests can represent all communication devices ranging from tablets to laptops.
Michelle also says that she hopes to continue to research the effects of gadgets and technologies on people’s behavior. In particular she hopes to have the opportunity to someday do research overseas. But aside from her work in scientific research, in her spare time Michelle has also helped launch a rural secondary school in Cambodia that works to save girls from sex trafficking and gender violence, by offering them an education. The school actually pays families stipends to allow their girls to be educated, so that a family doesn’t resort to selling their daughters into slavery.
After hearing about the details of her research project, I had to ask Hackman about which phone she is currently using herself. She explained that she is using the Samsung Jack because it supports applications that are essential for her, because they can read out loud. Miss Hackman relies on these type of apps because she is not sighted. Not that you’d ever guess that in a million years from speaking to her, especially when at just seventeen, her amount of accomplishments put most adults to shame. As for Michelle’s immediate plans? She’ll be attending Yale University next year, were she hopes to study psychology and possibly political science.
There were also several other young ladies who were awarded top honors at the Intel Science Talent Search:
Fourth Place: Madeleine Ball, 18, of Dallas identified a previously unknown means of cholera transmission and received a $40,000 award.
Fifth Place: Selena Li, 17, of Fair Oaks, Calif. discovered a novel and more effective treatment for experimental liver cancer and received a $30,000 award.
Eighth Place: Xiaoyu “Carrie” Cao, 17, of San Diego created a novel approach for developing scaffolds for nanoscale biosensors, which detects if there are toxins in the air, and received a $20,000 award.
Ninth Place: Jenny Liu, 18, of Orange, Conn. conducted a social robotics research project, which found that giving a robot realistic emotion significantly improves human-robot interaction, and received a $20,000 award.