COMMACK, New York, August 28
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
A resident of Commack, in 2014 alone, Matthew O’Connell has traveled to Dublin, Ottawa, Los Angeles and Seattle, all to show off his scientific research. The research, a software engineering project that works to relay prescription information from prescribers to patients, recently earned O’Connell a spot as one of 10 regional finalists from the United States and Canada to be a part of the 2014 Google Science Fair – an online competition where projects are uploaded and judged remotely.
Though he was bounced from the 2014 competition earlier this month, it doesn’t mean O’Connell be any less busy. Work on his current project, which he has dubbed the “Development of a Computer-Based Multi-Sensory System to Better Relay Pharmacotherapy Information,” will continue on, alongside other projects – like one he is contributing to for NASA.
And that’s not all: The 17-year-old starts his senior year at Commack High School on Wednesday.
“It’s definitely a lot of work, especially coming from Commack High School – a school known to throw a lot of work at you – but we’re diligent students [at Commack] and the key is just being proactive, while at the same time having time management,” O’Connell, who hopes to attend college next year at either Carnegie Mellon University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said. “[A] love for what you do is also important; if I didn’t love software engineering I wouldn’t have made it this far.”
A software engineer at heart, O’Connell said he dipped his toes into science research just this year when he took on the project that other students had tried to work on the past, but didn’t find much success with. The project – an interactive computer-based system which O’Connell calls The Prescription Architect (TPA) – works to relay prescription information from prescribers to patients in three different forms: visual, audio and translated text. Once it is downloaded from an “official website of an international pharmaceutical organization,” TPA does not require an internet connection.
“The program has direct application for providing medication instruction to populations in distress as groups such as Doctors Without Borders [a non-governmental humanitarian-aid organization] must,” O’Connell, whose software was downloaded 700 times in more than 80 countries as of mid-July, said. “Whereas, current methods only satisfy one component: textual, and even though prescribers can write prescriptions, they cannot translate the information to the degree that my program can.”
Once O’Connell’s software works its magic, the prescription is translated into a label, calendar and storyboard – the first of which is added to the container of the medication and the others provided as handouts for the patient so that they can better understand how to properly use their medication.
Earlier this year, the software caught the attention of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), which invited O’Connell out to its World Congress – resulting in his trip to Dublin, Ireland. He’s been to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, Canada to show off the software too.
“Working with the people who will use the program, some of which don’t even speak English – it was awesome,” O’Connell, whose software typically supports the patient’s native language, said. “Everyone cared about it, everyone wanted to contribute.”
Also adding to O’Connell’s list of accomplishments, he said, are a first-place finish at the New York State Science & Engineering Fair, a second-place finish at the Long Island Science & Engineering Fair and finalist appearances at both the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in California and the Junior Science & Humanities Symposium in Washington.
The Google Science Fair was the largest competition that O’Connell had entered into yet, so finishing in the top 100 worldwide and top 10 in the North American region (17-18 age group) is nothing to shake his head at. O’Connell credited his exit from the competition as a testament to the “great work” that is being done by the other contestants. Plus, it gives him more time to stay busy.
“I’m already programming to get ready for my next presentation. I love it… Every day is a new challenge,” O’Connell said. “I’m depressed if there’s not something to do.”
Originally published: Long Islander News: The Record (Thursday, August 28, 2014; Front page)