Student Wins $10K for Depression Diagnoses App

By Leah Fallon

Depression is an illness that many Americans face every day, and early detection can be key to successful treatment.

Fourteen-year-old Kaien Yang has an app for that.

Yang is an eighth-grader at the Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon who’s taking his middle school science project to a new level. His studies have gone on to win him money and recognition.

Earlier this month, Kaien won the Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation, winning $10,000 at the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) competition held in Washington, DC. The teen, of Chantilly, was one of 30 top finalists to compete.

Kaien developed the medical app, iDiagnostic, as part of his seventh-grade science fair project. It’s an app for doctors to use as a diagnostic tool for major depressive disorders. The program uses information from MRI scans and combines it with a psychometric evaluation. Together, they create a more scientific way to diagnose depression.

“I feel like early and accurate detection can help the depression patients,” Kaien said. The app will provide doctors and psychiatrists objective evidence when diagnosing depression.

Kaien has always had an interest in neuroscience. In 2011, he met renowned neurosurgeons at the John Hopkins Hospital when his mother had a brain surgery and asked questions of the medical staff. Dr. Rafael Tamargo chatted with the enthusiastic 9 year old. Kaien said he was amazed with the doctor’s mastery of the brain, which led to his mother’s complete recovery.

Maria-Theresa Dragg, a science teacher at Nysmith School, taught Kaien in sixth grade. While Kaien said his teacher helped spark his passion for science, Dragg said she feels like the student in the relationship.

“I learn more from him than I feel I can offer him,” she said. “He is very self-motivated and wants to learn more. He won’t break from a project until he has solved the problem.” He often takes his work home with him, testing, and researching until he has a solution.

The desire to know more and to ask questions is what drives Kaien. But beyond that, Dragg says what makes him stand out is his maturity and compassion. In class, he goes above and beyond to help other students understand the material. “He’s always respectful and kind,” she said. “He will go far, and not by stepping on people to get there.”

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