Coding a Limitless World

How this college freshman is changing the game

Sharon Lin · Undergraduate at MIT· Data Analyst at OpenDataSoft

For Sharon Lin, STEM has always been woven into her life. “In elementary and middle school, I loved science and math competitions.” For some kids, this might’ve been tedious, but she found it joyful, a way to satiate her curiosity. “Studying for these contests often involved fun experiments or doing projects where I could learn about incredible phenomena about our world, from the optics behind the color of our sky to the mechanisms that cause our skin to tan.”

She first became immersed in the world of hackathons in high school. “In my sophomore year, I had the chance to attend Pearl Hacks, UNC Chapel Hill’s hackathon. After working on an iOS game that demonstrated the importance of contraceptives, I was hooked.” This experience spurred her to start a hackathon at her school, Stuyvesant High School in New York City. She says,

“I knew that I had to bring this energy and excitement back to my school.”

Throughout high school, Sharon has also been involved in a myriad of scientific research projects. “My freshman year, I worked on designing DNA for nano crystallization and building tensegrity triangles to form geometric shapes used for capturing and imaging protein at nano-scale. The next summer, I learned about polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) fabrication for nanoelectronics, as well as chemical vapor deposition for monolayer tungsten disulfide, a material that has uses in creating microdisks.”

She continues, “I also participated in a number of projects, including the Urban Barcode Project, where I helped barcode DNA from flora specimen in the New York City boroughs to help determine the biodiversity of large lakes. Recently, I’ve been studying images of water samples to determine the presence of bacteria. I used Google’s Tensorflow library and Python wrappings to help build an artificial neural network that I trained to identify images of harmful bacteria samples. The prototype that I built currently has a 95% accuracy rate. I’m hoping to expand the current database of images to include more harmful particles that may not be easily identified.”

Sharon is determined to use her interest in tech for social good. “I’ve been working on releasing iVOTE, an app that provides resources and information to voters about their elected officials, election days, and their opinions on platforms. After the 2016 election, I had a rude awakening to the number of constituents who either don’t care or feel overwhelmed by the political process, so I’m working on solving the issue with an accessible app to deliver information to users. In addition, I’m building a VR experience that will allow users to better understand mental health issues through simulations and interactive stories.”

When asked for her advice, Sharon says, “Embrace failure and find mentors to lean on. So much of engineering involves failing over and over again until you find a solution, and at times it can get frustrating and demoralizing. Even so, it’s so worth staying in the field because of the impact that you can have and the skills and connections you can build. Finding mentors really helped me stay on track, and kept me inspired throughout my journey in tech. I think it’s especially important to reach out to people who inspire you — it’s always a good idea to surround yourself with people who encourage and uplift you. Building a community is really one of the keys to success!”