Meet Isha Narang

Isha Narang is 17 years old and a Junior at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Native to Texas, Isha was born in San Antonio and grew up in Austin. Her family moved to Charlotte in 2019. Her hobbies include piano, Speech & Debate, art, and Girl Scouts. Isha describes herself as an extreme Marvel fan, with a preference for Iron Man.


Her experience with Science Fairs began while living in Texas as a Kindergarten student. She recalls always questioning the things that she saw, which explains why her first project was titled “Why do my apples turn brown at lunch?” While her curiosity remained, the topics in question became increasingly sophisticated and closer to her heart. At one point her explorations focused on engineering and building projects, but her interests have now shifted more into using machine learning algorithms as a means to conduct deeper scientific analyses. Inspired by an event that occurred before Isha was born, the loss of a sister to a rare heart condition that is not yet fully understood, her recent focus has been research in medicine. Despite some adults discouraging her exploration because of her young age, she is motivated by an urge to discover the unknown and to make a tangible impact.

As Isha reflects on her experience with Science and Engineering Fairs, the overarching lesson has been not to limit your questions based on a single category, but to follow your curiosity, focusing on the idea and potential discovery. To support this, she notes the varying topics and knowledge she has gained from researching different fields – ranging from Earth and Environmental Science to Computer Science. She feels that the Science and Engineering Fair experience has changed her overall mindset beyond the idea of memorization or cramming things, as she is instead driven by the need to know the ‘why’ or the logic and theory behind each concept.

Science and Engineering Fairs have been a huge part of her life, not encapsulating everything that she is interested in, but many of her interests are reflected in her project choices. She describes this as an evolution of interest, starting with an environmental interest and changing over time to her current focus on using computer science to solve medical problems. Her experience with computer science has affirmed her belief in her potential to have a real-world impact as a high school student. Based on what she has already learned and applied, she feels that every single field has an application where computer science can be used.

As an 8th grade student, Isha was promoted to the Region 6 NC regional fair, and in her 9th and 10th grade years, she was promoted to compete internationally through Region 6 and NCSEF respectively. She loves the excitement of standing by her project board and waiting for someone to be interested in her project. Noting that the experience is not just about judging, but rather, for her it is about the conversation and getting to hear other perspectives on her work. She provides the example of talking to someone at a fair who had military experience and asked whether she felt her creation of an app which recognized tablets could be useful to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). 

Isha also experienced online competitions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She described online fairs as interesting because they pushed her to sum up her research in a very different format. The time constraints created an environment where she had to be very coherent, concise, and able to communicate her science to a variety of audiences. These experiences made it clear that there is a big difference between sharing your research via a scientific approach and communicating the real-world application of your work. For instance, she felt that the Quad Chart requirements were a unique challenge in bridging the gap in knowledge to concisely yet thoroughly present research to an audience that may not share the same scientific or technical background

Finally, she feels that the research experience has motivated her to self-learn computer science for her projects. She learned Python independently and was able to do the AP course at her high school as a self study. In addition she has also taught herself to use the machine learning software ‘WEKA’ and ‘Teachable Machine’. Each year, Isha aims to one-up her past computer science experiences, whether that be by writing a greater amount of code or learning new models and algorithms.

The judging process of International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) was canceled in Isha’s 9th grade year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Society for Science did host a series of events virtually for those who were promoted to engage with. These events included speakers who were nobel laureates and other PhD researchers, and Isha really appreciated getting to learn from their experiences and getting the opportunity to share her own.

Promoted to Regeneron ISEF in her 10th grade year (2021), the international competition was held in a fully virtual format. Isha was impressed by the scale of the competition and the caliber of the judges who she was able to connect with and learn from, noting that one of her judges was CEO of multiple companies and held numerous patents. Her project was placed in the category of Translational Medicine and she felt that this categorization helped her to gain perspective through the questions of the judges who explored her work. Prior to the experience, she recalls not having considered the potential for commercialization and appreciated the variety of fields of expertise, including computer science, medicine, and business, that the judges brought to the discussion. Overall she feels that the judging experience helped her to think of her project in new ways.

Beyond the judging experience, she was able to attend the talks of a few speakers and panels and to engage directly with employees of Regeneron (in her category meetup session) who shared a bit about the current projects they were working on. One of her biggest takeaways from the ISEF experience was meeting people from other nations and learning about the myriad projects and questions that her peers around the world were exploring. 

Her project in 2021 was titled, “Using Automated Infant Posture Recognition to Reduce SIDS Risk”. The research was motivated by the family experience of her aunt’s first child passing away from SIDS. She has grown up witnessing the fear and paranoia that the experience has caused in her family, with perpetual concern if an infant is sleeping, and a shared need to be in the room to monitor a sleeping child. Isha wanted to know if there is a way to relieve some stress for families of infants by creating an automated way to monitor a sleeping infant for safe positioning. Using 53 images to simulate 53000 frames of infant sleeping positions, Isha created a dataset which she ran through PoseNet to determine key points for recognition of postures. Then, she created a Geometric Algorithm (in Python) to identify the positioning of a lying infant and determine whether it was safe or not. This algorithm was so complex that the introduction of something slightly different [in an image] led to inaccuracies. This led Isha to shift to a machine learning algorithm, resulting in “cleaner” results. In layman's terms, she created an application that runs with a webcam on the infant. The application remains green if the child is sleeping in a “safe” position (visible), but if the position is unsafe the application makes an alert sound and displays red text for alert.

As of 2022, Isha is currently working with an entrepreneurial/business community and two mentors in order to commercialize her app for SIDS prevention. Though in very early stages, Isha is very excited for the prospect of increasing public access to her application. Advancing her research from a Science Fair project to a tangible product is one of her greatest aspirations come true, and she says advancing the real-world impact of her work is perhaps her most exciting project thus far.

This year Isha is a junior at Ardrey Kell, was accepted into the NCSSM Online program, and is taking classes from Central Piedmont Community College. Her courses vary including some with a chemistry focus and others that are computer science based. Her research project this year for the Science and Engineering Fair was titled “V-Guard: A Facial/object recognition-based Multimodal Framework for Unintentional Injury Prevention”.

Isha originally wanted to create a framework to prevent school shootings by using object detection to recognize any possible weapons. Due to logistic and scope issues, she decided to expand this topic to preventable injuries in home environments. She was inspired to make this change after learning that 26.2 million preventable injuries occur annually in home environments, and this leads to about 95 thousand deaths. So, Isha wanted to find an efficient way to identify preventable dangerous situations in home environments and initiate alerts accordingly. She built, trained, and fine-tuned three models: image classification, object detection, and face recognition. She combined these into a proximity alert-based framework which she named Virtual Guard (or V-Guard). So, if an individual is recognized as close to an object which is qualified as dangerous for them (using a personalized age-based criteria), then an alarm is initiated.

As she finishes up high school, Isha is planning to take more high level STEM classes, hoping to better combine her science and engineering fair research with her school work. Beyond school she is leaning towards a medical profession, which may include cardiovascular surgery or anesthesiology. She is still considering whether she will focus on practicing medicine, conducting medical research, or a combination of both. 

We asked Isha to provide 1 piece of advice for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering. Her advice is:

“Question everything. Everything around you can turn into a research project. It is about understanding why things happen and what approach you want to take. You might feel like, as a high school or elementary school student, you won’t have an impact. You can look into the science enough that you can start to think about an approach. I started with ‘why do apples turn brown’ and now I am working on SIDS. No project is too small.”