This Stanford Student’s $35 Invention Saves Lives and Won Her $150,000

Lexi Lieberman | Study Breaks | August 18, 2017

Maya Varma did something at the age of seventeen that many people will never even accomplish in their lifetime—she invented a device that can save lives. Varma, now a rising sophomore at Stanford University, won the First Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation at the Intel Science Talent Search in 2016 for designing an inexpensive pulmonary function analyzer for the diagnosis of five pulmonary illnesses. Unlike the typical devices that hospitals use to diagnose lung diseases, Varma’s invention is exceedingly affordable, with the necessary materials costing a measly $35.

Maya VarmaVarma was awarded $150,000 for winning the competition, which she is using to pay for tuition and academic expenses at Stanford. She is pursuing an Engineering degree and hopes to someday work in the medical device innovation field, a fitting career path, since it is an area in which she has already made incredible progress. I had the opportunity to speak with Varma about why she chose to invent a device to diagnose lung disease, how her design works and what her plans are for the future.

Lexi Lieberman: Tell me about the device you invented. What does it do and how does it work?

Maya Varma: According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), restrictive lung disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis has been growing rapidly around the world over the past few decades. Six hundred million people worldwide have some form of respiratory illness, with COPD specifically being the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer...