Studying Facial Expressions in High School

Colby Howell and Varun Ramesh, two Hamilton High school students, won paid trips to Los Angeles to compete for $4 million in prizes and scholorships at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair , for their scientific research projects.

These students were among the grand prize winners last week in the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair. The statewide competition is sponsored by the Arizona Technology Council Foundation.

According to, Varun focused his research on developing a computer device that could detect facial expressions and gestures of  individuals talking to someone with a visual impairment.

15 year old Varun and his research partner Shantanu Bala, a student at Barry Goldwater High, wanted to develop a “dyadic interaction assistant for tracking head gestures and facial expressions.”

In their research, they used a camera aimed at the person listening to someone speak who has a visual impairment. The listener’s facial expressions were recorded and fed back to a glove with sensors worn by the person with the impairment.  That person could almost always understand the facial expressions of the listener.

Varun stated, “It’s sort of like emoticons.”

The students are developing a new prototype for the Intel ISEF.  “We found we could get 95 percent accuracy,” Varun said, which is better than their predicted 90% accuracy.

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