Hand holding smartphone and heart monitor images via Shutterstock

While some teens are twiddling their thumbs away on their phone, checking out Facebook, other teens like 17-year old Catherine Wong are using cell phones to build life-saving devices for developing nations. Wong, a New Jersey native, visited her local retailer and purchased some off-the-shelf electronics which she used to build an inexpensive electrocardiogram machine to track heart activity. But it doesn’t end there – the enterprising teen fashioned the device to wirelessly send the data collected to a Java-enabled cell phone app and then on to a diagnosing physician — all in real time.


In July of this year, NPR’s Je Palca launched a contest aimed at those aged 13 to 25 in search of ideas that have the potential to positively impact the world. Wong’s idea was one of many, but it was her execution with her prototype that really impressed the judges. According to GOOD, Scripps Research Institute cardiologist Eric Topol told Palca that it was “just the kind of technology that ‘flattens the Earth’ for better medical care.”

The next step is to turn Wong’s idea into a mainstream reality — though there’s no question that bringing the idea to market will be a challenge. Currently, the savvy high school student is working with incubator PopTech on developing the device further.

“I’m going to keep going on this project, making it smaller, cheaper, more durable,” she said. Her dream is to make the device available to patients in developing countries. “That’s who I aimed the project at, and that’s who I’m working for.”