Spotlight on BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition: IRC special award winner 2024

Posted: 30 January, 2024

BT Young Scientist IRC winner pictured by his poster

Weichen Huang, a student at St Andrew’s College, Dublin, (pictured above) won the Irish Research Council special award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2024 for his project on ‘Artificial Multimodal Intelligence for Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis and Aetiology Analysis’.

The special award commends the best project combining more than one branch of science or combining science with humanities and/or social science. To celebrate this achievement, we asked Weichen to tell us about his project and what he hoped to do after graduating.

 What was the subject of your winning project, and what inspired you to pursue that research topic?


The title of my project is “Artificial Multimodal Intelligence for Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis and Aetiology Analysis”. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease, posing a global health challenge with a major impact on cognitive functions in the elderly. Therefore, its early detection is crucial. While traditional AD detection relies on medical imaging, valuable data in AD databases, including biomarkers and clinical assessments, remains underutilised.


To address this gap, I propose a versatile multimodal contrastive learning framework integrating MRI image data, biomarkers, cognitive assessments, and more. The innovative tabular attention module enhances the prioritisation of salient features within tabular datasets, extending these techniques to AD prediction.


The resulting framework is capable of AD detection using multiple modalities from the ADNI database, aiming to leverage the interpretability of tabular data to identify prominent biomarkers and factors in AD aetiology, potentially revealing novel insights into the disease’s origins.


This project was inspired by research I had undertaken as an intern at UCD’s Machine Learning in Medical Imaging group led by Dr. Kathleen Curran. We were working on a project to detect Alzheimer’s by combining different types of medical images. When I first joined the project, I had little knowledge of the processes behind Alzheimer’s disease. After doing further research on this, I had found that multiple modalities crucial in detecting AD.


What does the Irish Research Council special award mean to you?


It is a great honor to receive the Irish Research Council special award. The award holds particular significance as it is bestowed by the Irish Research Council, an institution dedicated to promoting excellence in research. This acknowledgment not only reflects individual achievement but also underscores the broader commitment to advancing science and innovation in Ireland.


What are some of the benefits of independent research for students in Ireland?


Engaging in independent research offers students in Ireland lots of benefits. First and foremost, it provides a unique opportunity to explore new fields that may not be traditionally covered in standard school courses.


Additionally, independent research offers a platform for students to connect with researchers from across Ireland. For instance, when I participated in conferences such as the Irish Machine Vision and Image Processing (IMVIP 2023), I established valuable connections with professionals working in fields like AI. Presenting research at such events, as opposed to attending as secondary school students, facilitates the building of stronger connections, opening doors for future collaboration.


Ultimately, these experiences contribute to advancing the boundaries of various academic disciplines, encouraging students to make meaningful contributions in the real world.

IRC Director Peter Brown awarding a trophy to BT Young Scientist IRC winner

Weichen Huang collecting his award from Peter Brown, Director of the Irish Research Council.

What are your plans after you leave school?


When I go to college, I plan on taking computer science or mathematics, given my deep passion for these subjects. Enrolling in college will hopefully advance my theoretical foundations in these subjects. However, my aim is to not only acquire a solid academic foundation but also to actively engage in research initiatives within these fields. I envision a future where I can contribute meaningfully to the world of research, leveraging my acquired skills.


The BTYSE took place in the RDS between 10-13th January 2024.



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