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Combating COVID-19

The Fight Against COVID-19

From March 25th to May 6th, 2020, over 2000 young innovators from 74 different countries came together to join the fight against COVID-19. In response to the coronavirus outbreak and global shutdown, the New York Academy of Sciences invited creative problem-solvers from around the world to participate in the challenge for a chance to receive a $500 travel scholarship to attend the Global STEM Alliance Summit. The winning solution, GOvid-19, is a virtual assistant and chatbot that provides users with accurate pandemic-related information. Learn more about the winning solution and the solvers who designed them.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic in March 2020. As scientists and public health experts rush to find solutions to contain the spread, existing and emerging technologies are proving to be valuable. In fact, governments and health care facilities have increasingly turned to technology to help manage the outbreak. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has sparked alarm worldwide. Many countries are grappling with the rise in confirmed cases. It is urgent and crucial for us to discover ways to use technology to contain the outbreak and manage future public health emergencies.

The Challenge

The New York Academy of Sciences invited students ages 13-17 from around the world to participate in an open innovation challenge focused on slowing the spread of COVID-19 through technology-based solutions. Read the full challenge statement including the question and background here.

How It Works

After signing up to participate, students self-selected into teams and worked together on Launchpad, a virtual interactive platform that safely facilitates global collaboration and problem-solving. Using Launchpad, students from around the world participated, in teams or individually, to design a technology-based solution to the challenge question.

Grand Prize Winners


A virtual assistant that provides users with accurate information about government responses, emergency resources, statistics on COVID-19 while utilizing grassroots feedback, streamlining medical supply chains with blockchain and AI techniques address potential accessibiliy issues among the most vulnerable groups.


COVID Warriors – TISB Bangalore

A global centralized contract tracing solution that addresses the underlying issues of existing technology by integrating GPS and Bluetooth as well as combining RSSI modeling with analytics.


An AI-supported, 3D-printed rapid serological (saliva) testing kit and chest X-ray scan analyzer that detect SARS-CoV-2 in high-risk individuals, within the in- and out- patient settings.

Tracking Coronavirus

The Fight Against Coronavirus

From May 8th to June 19th, 2020, over 250 innovators from 21 different countries worked together to develop syndromic surveillance systems that help us better understand the current pandemic and prevent future outbreaks. The New York Academy of Sciences invited solvers from around the world to participate in the challenge for a chance to win a $5,000 USD grand prize. The winning solution, SYNSYS: Tracking COVID-19 created by Esha Datanwala, is a syndromic surveillance system that uses online data to predict outbreaks. Learn more about the winning solution and the solver who designed it.

In the last two decades three new Corinaviruses have jumped from animals to humans – called the spillover effect– causing serious illness and fatalities. Scientists and researchers in various sectors are racing to develop treatments and a vaccine while also investigating fundamental questions about the virus such as the seasonality, full range of symptoms, true fatality rate, viral latency, dose response curve of the viral load, long-term immunity, mutation rate etc.

The lack of Syndromic Surveillance for Coronavirus has grossly exposed the global and local preparedness for pandemics making us vulnerable as well as putting extreme stress on our government, healthcare facilities, medical supply demands and economies.

The Challenge

Participants were asked to think critically about the importance of Coronavirus basic research and design a surveillance network to better understand the current pandemic and/or prevent future Coronavirus outbreaks. Read the full challenge statement including the question and background here.

How It Works

After signing up to participate as individuals or teams, solvers worked together on Launchpad, a virtual interactive platform that safely facilitates global collaboration and program solving. Using Launchpad, solvers from around the world participated in teams or individually, to design a solution by answering the question proposed. Ten finalists teams were invited to a Virtual Pitch Event where they presented their model in front of a panel of judges. Watch the Virtual Pitch recording here.

Winners & Finalists

Grand Prize Winner – $5,000 USD

SYNSYS: Tracking COVID-19

SYNSYS is a syndromic surveillance system designed for the public & private healthcare sectors. This system uses public domain mined data from Google Trends, various social media sites, census data, and satellite data to predict outbreaks, both before they happen and while they’re happening.

Team Member: Esha Datanwala


Ten finalists teams were invited to present their solution to a panel of judges at the Virtual Pitch Event on July 17th, 2020. You can watch the virtual pitch recording here.

Special Recognition

The judges gave special recognition to this team for its effort to address the fundamental issues regarding syndromic tracking systems.

Audience Favorite

Two teams were voted as the Audience Favorite during the Virtual Pitch Event and received bonus point(s) in the final judging.

Learn more about other finalists’ solutions:

IoT Smart Homes Challenge


In a two-year partnership with the Ericsson-created Center of Excellence (CoE), the Academy invited Omani youth to join the Junior Academy and participate in a series of Internet of Things (IoT) challenges and activities. Students and mentors from Omani industry and academia will participate in Challenges around the topic of ‘Internet of Things’ which will offer you opportunities to innovate and learn with peers and mentors around the globe.

The Challenge

Design a smart home that integrates technology which collects, processes, and stores environmental and health information. The smart home you design should be sustainable and provide suitable feedback mechanisms for such information to promote sustainable energy use but also the physical and mental health of those living in the home. The design can include new innovations and/or alterations of existing technology.

In essence, the central challenge question you need to answer is:

How can a smart home create a healthier and more sustainable home environment?


ericsson logo vertical

This program is made possible by a two-year partnership between the Academy and Ericsson-created Center of Excellence for Advanced Telecommunications and IoT. Throughout the program, Omani youth will build critically important 21st century skills, hone their entrepreneurial and innovation mindsets, and build their digital knowledge and leadership potential.


Team members: Al-Zahraa A. (Team Lead) (Oman), Tahra A. (Oman), Miaad A. (Oman), Taher A. (Oman)

Mentor: Venkatesan Subramaniyan (India)

Read More >


This Challenge is closed.

We have archived the resources from this challenge. These resources are valuable resources for educators and students.



The digital landscape is rapidly transforming as information, processes, and devices are increasingly connected in complex networks. Nearly everything is connected via the internet: homes, businesses, medical systems, monetary systems, infrastructure, and governments, just to name a few. At the same time, individual users of technology open themselves up to risks on a regular basis simply by using smartphones, tablets and laptops. These mobile computing devices are vulnerable to multiple types of cyber threats such as phishing, malicious apps, and ransomware. Relaxed security settings and the use of public Wi-Fi networks add on additional layers of risk. 

Thanks to our hyper-connectedness, these individual security breaches can have far-reaching consequences. With access to a singular password or social media account, cyber criminals have the potential to steal information and identities, crash networks, and even hold entire governments digitally hostage. Innovative cybersecurity solutions that address the vulnerabilities of mobile computing devices and their human users have the potential to make individuals, organizations, and the entire digital landscape more resilient and secure.


About NEOM

NEOM is an accelerator of human progress and a vision of what a new future might look like. It is a region in northwest Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea being built from the ground up as a destination and a home for dreamers who want to be part of building a new model for exceptional livability, creating thriving businesses and reinventing environmental conservation.

NEOM will include hyperconnected, cognitive cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centers, sports and entertainment venues and tourist destinations. As a hub for innovation, entrepreneurs, business leaders and companies will come to research, incubate, and commercialize new technologies and enterprises in groundbreaking ways. Residents of NEOM will embody an international ethos and embrace a culture of exploration, risk-taking and diversity. Some of the most recent cities and destination launched by NEOM include:

  • THE LINE – A linear, cognitive city without cars that redefines urban living
  • Oxagon – An advanced manufacturing and innovation city with a floating platform
  • Trojena – A sustainable year-round mountain tourism destination


Team members: Jessica K. (Team Lead) (United States), Ritwik D. (United States), Neha B. (United States), Bhavya D. (United States), Farah M. (Jordan)

Read More >


This Challenge is closed.

We have archived the resources from this challenge. These resources are valuable resources for educators and students.

Cybersafe Team

Winner of the Junior Academy Challenge – Spring 2023 “Cybersecurity”

Sponsored by NEOM

Published January 11, 2024

Team members: Jessica K. (Team Lead) (United States), Ritwik D. (United States), Neha B. (United States), Bhavya D. (United States), Farah M. (Jordan)

Individuals, businesses, and governments increasingly operate in a digital landscape. But as homes, medical systems, banking services, and key infrastructure connect via complex online networks, cyberattacks have increased exponentially. Developing strong protections against various forms of cyberthreats has become critical.

Enter Cybersafe, the 5-student American/Jordanian collaboration that formed the winning team in the Spring 2023 Cybersecurity Innovation Challenge.

“I’ve been thinking about two things: collaborating with cybersecurity experts and conducting user research,” says Bhavya.

A Focus on Phishing

After thorough research on various cyberthreats, the team evolved to focus on “phishing”, an illegal practice that uses fraudulent emails to manipulate recipients into divulging private information– information used for blackmail, identity theft, embezzlement, and even resale to other criminals.

Email remains the hackers’ easiest route to breaching online security and obtaining sensitive data. The scale of this cyberthreat is staggering: Every day, 3.4 billion fraudulent spam emails are sent around the world, using fake sender addresses to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information. The consequences for victims can be devastating.

In 2022 over 300,000 phishing claims were filed in the United States alone– a 61% increase on the previous year– with costs estimated at $2.7 billion. Cybercriminals are often hard to trace, particularly because they tend to select victims carefully, focusing on vulnerable, often elderly people. Phishing perpetrators often avoid attracting attention by launching large numbers of small attacks. To coerce and deceive their victims, they keep in touch with trends and constantly adjust their messages and tactics.

A Two-Pronged Solution

Through brainstorming and effective teamwork, the students came up with a two-pronged solution to curb this global scourge.

“I gained a lot of insights from this experience and learned how to work with someone rather than under someone,” says Farah. “I took on various tasks so we could share the workload evenly and efficiently.”

First, they focused on developing software that enables Artificial Intelligence (AI) to interact with and enhance testing systems on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. These systems can automatically analyze emails and attachments in order to detect malicious content.

“One of the most valuable things I learned from this experience was the importance of open communication and collaboration,” says Neha. “I found that by working together and sharing our ideas, we were able to create a stronger end product than we could have individually.”

Advocating for Policy Changes

In addition to this technological solution, the team members advocated for policy changes to better protect the public from cyberhackers. In particular, they suggested new legislation to prevent tactics such as impersonation of co-workers or relatives in order to coerce victims into soliciting private information, clicking on malware links, or downloading harmful attachments.

The law would impose tougher penalties on cybercrime perpetrators, increasing fines and the likelihood of imprisonment. It would also require the most frequently targeted companies and organizations (in 2020: financial services, payment platforms, and webmail) to update their security protocols on a regular basis, implement two-factor authentication, and increase funding for cybersecurity research and development.

The students felt confident in their twofold solution to combat phishing and improve the security of personal devices: 1. With the help of AI, identify and filter harmful emails and alert potential victims, and 2. Enact new legislation to improve cybersecurity and impose harsher punishments on online criminals.

A Dual Approach

Developing this dual approach involved hard work for the Cybersafe team, particularly when this required coordinating the time zones of two separate continents. It also offered them opportunities to discover new fields and acquire new skills.

“Normally my project revolves around nature and ecologic science, so this was a nice time to try something new and test my recently developed skills,” says Ritwik. “Although I have a very busy schedule outside the Academy, I tried to make the best of my free time and dedicated myself to this project.“

After successfully completing the challenge, the students felt enriched by the experience and proud of their joint achievement– made even sweeter by learning they were the winning team.

“I learned a lot of collaborative skills from this project, including how to lead and participate in a team setting,” says Team Lead Jessica. “Working with this team was a wonderful experience and I look forward to future collaborations.”

Ethical Implications in the Development of AI

An AI researcher poses for the camera.

Published November 21, 2023

By Nick Fetty

Betty Li Hou, a Ph.D. student in computer science at the New York University Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, presented her lecture “AI Alignment Through a Societal Lens” on November 9 at The New York Academy of Sciences.

Seminar attendees included the 2023 cohort of the Academy’s AI and Society post-doctoral fellowship program (a collaboration with Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society), who asked questions and engaged in a dialog throughout the talk. Hou’s hour-long presentation examined the ethical impacts that AI systems can have on societies, and how machine learning, philosophy, sociology, and law should all come together in the development of these systems.

“AI doesn’t exist independently from these other disciplines and so AI research in many ways needs to consider these dimensions, otherwise we’re only looking at one piece of the picture,” said Hou.

Hou’s research aims to capture the broader societal dynamics and issues surrounding the so-called ‘alignment problem,’ a term coined by author and researcher Brian Christian in his 2020 book of the same name. The alignment problem aims to ensure that AI systems pursue goals that match human values and interests, while trying to avoid unintended or undesirable outcomes.

Developing Ethical AI Systems

As values and interests vary across (and even within) countries and cultures, researchers are nonetheless struggling to develop ethical AI systems that transcend these differences and serve societies in a beneficial way. When there isn’t a clear guide for developing ethical AI systems, one of the key questions from Hou’s research becomes apparent: What values are implicitly/explicitly encoded in products?

“I think there are a lot of problems and risks that we need to sort through before extracting benefits from AI,” said Hou. “But I also see so many ways AI provides potential benefits, anything from helping with environmental issues to detecting harmful content online to helping businesses operate more efficiently. Even using AI for complex medical tasks like radiology.”

Social media content moderation is one area where AI algorithms have shown potential for serving society in a positive way. For example, on YouTube, 90% of videos that are reviewed are initially flagged by AI algorithms seeking to spot copyrighted material or other content that violates YouTube’s terms of service.

Hou, whose current work is also supported by a DeepMind Ph.D. Scholarship and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, previously served as a Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics as an undergraduate studying computer science and engineering at Santa Clara University. She closed her recent lecture by reemphasizing the importance of interdisciplinary research and collaboration in the development of AI systems that adequately serve society going forward.

“Computer scientists need to look beyond their field when answering certain ethical and societal issues around AI,” Hou said. “Interdisciplinary collaboration is absolutely necessary.”

Artificial Intelligence & Engineered Tissues For Cardiac Disease Therapeutics

Developing targeted therapies for rare cardiomyopathies is challenging: difficulties identifying patients, delivering therapeutics, and accessing heart tissue results in a 50% mortality rate 5 years after diagnosis.  Early, accurate disease detection and classification can significantly improve outcomes for patients with rare cardiomyopathies. Achieving these goals requires multiple novel technologies to coalesce that will enable early patient identification, deepen our understanding of the disease process, improve modeling of human pathophysiology, accelerate testing of drug candidates, and leverage novel therapeutic modalities to target the heart specifically, safely and effectively.

This two-day conference will convene industry scientists, academics, and clinicians to understand the integration of artificial intelligence and engineered tissues for safe and effective delivery of novel therapeutics for patients with arrhythmogenic, hypertrophic, and dilated cardiomyopathies.

The New Wave of AI in Healthcare 2024

In collaboration with The Academy, the Windreich Department of Artificial Intelligence and Human Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is organizing the second annual symposium: “The New Wave of AI in Healthcare 2024.” This event aims to showcase the latest advancements in AI- and data-driven technologies in healthcare.
The symposium will feature keynote and plenary lectures by industry leaders, as well as poster presentations from early career investigators and students, highlighting the latest innovations in the field. Additionally, it will provide networking opportunities for researchers across disciplines and sectors to collaborate and advance their work. The venue, located in New York City, is designed to facilitate dialogue and collaboration, driving progress in the field of healthcare AI.

Presenting Partner