Senior Julia Miao recognized as Siemens semifinalist

Jady Wei

MVHS is no stranger to success, often receiving the highest honors in math and science competitions. This year, senior Julia Miao became the only semifinalist from MVHS to be recognized in the 2014 Siemens Competition for Math, Science & Technology.

“I designed and developed a mathematical model called ‘support vector machine learning classification’,” Miao said. “It is able to aid mammography in diagnosing breast cancer by distinguishing malignant breast cancer from benign disease.”

Miao has long held a passion for science, with interests in areas like DNA analysis, stoichiometry and the laws of thermodynamics. She first became interested in cancer research in seventh grade, after learning about the disease in her life science class. It soon began to pique her curiosity in delving into potential means of treating lethal cancer.

Miao’s first step in her research process was studying numerous journal articles and papers on mammography, breast cancer, biopsies and diagnoses. She soon discovered that mammography is one of the most common tools for diagnosing breast cancer. However, Miao found that the method lacks accuracy and subsequently causes many patients to undergo surgical biopsy as well, a considerably more painful process.

“Surgical biopsy is expensive, invasive and unnecessary,” Miao said. “So that got me thinking of possibly developing a mathematical model or computer aided diagnosis tool that would aid mammography in diagnosing breast cancer with a high and consistent diagnosis accuracy.”

This led her to the core of her research project: the development itself. Ever since late spring of her sophomore year, Miao has continually researched and designed her product.

“I studied many articles and many different math models, and especially support vector machine[s],” Miao said. “I gathered datasets and then designed my model, trained and tested it.”

During the process of preparing for the competition, Miao compiled an 18-page research paper that comprised the details and procedures of her entire project. Though this stage was one of the most tedious, Miao had experience from several years before, when she had entered the Siemens competition as a sophomore. Along with her sister, who was then a senior, Miao created a project apropos of breast cancer diagnosis for the competition.

“I think this entire process was really rewarding,” Miao said. “Culminating my research and putting what I was learning all these years into something I can share with others.”