It started with quail, specifically quail eggs.
When a family friend wanted to know which of his quail were laying the largest eggs, Ethan Benjamin Shlossberg was intrigued.
Then an eighth grader at Holicong Middle School in Buckingham Township, Ethan said, “I thought of the theory that each quail has its own egg pattern.” While eggs of many birds look identical, quail eggs don’t.
This got the coding-passionate student wondering if artificial intelligence could be put to work to identify different quail egg patterns. And that curiosity and the project it launched has placed Ethan among the 30 finalists in the Broadcom MASTERS, the country’s premier science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) middle school competition.
“I realized a machine-learning software, such as Amazon Rekognition, would be an ideal tool to pattern match,” said Ethan, in a release from Broadcom Foundation, which sponsors the competition with the Society for Science.
To start, Ethan put the individual quail alone in cages until each bird laid at least five eggs. He labeled and photographed all angles of each egg and fed the images of five eggs for each bird into the program to “train” it. Then, he used other images of quail eggs to test the model.
“The model tries to guess which quail laid each egg based on the training data,” said Ethan. Tests with groups of three and six eggs had good results, leading Ethan to conclude that a quail can be identified based on its egg pattern. “This is ideal,” said Ethan, “as quail are kept in groups of three to six.”
His findings could allow farmers to learn which quail are laying the most and largest eggs and help them breed the birds that produce the best quail.
In his spare time, Ethan said, he likes to play Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. He also sings with a choir and plays cello. He enjoys running, playing tennis and practicing Taekwondo. Unsurprisingly, Ethan is part of a computer club and studies robotics. He also likes Scouting.
Ethan said he’d like to be a zoologist and help protect endangered animals. “Wildlife needs an advocate now, more than ever,” he told the foundation.
Now a ninth grade student at George School in Middletown Township, Ethan will receive $500 and participate in Finals Week in Washington, D.C., where students will compete for awards ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.
Teachers are also recognized with a one-year classroom subscription to Science News magazine and the finalist’s schools each receive a $1,000 to use on STEM activities.