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Science / Tech

Amber Yang

The Teen Working to Prevent a Space Catastrophe

Nineteen-year-old Amber Yang is trying to prevent a space-debris catastrophe. Back when she was a freshman in high school, Yang watched the movie Gravity and it sparked an idea. Bored by her current schoolwork, she decided to try to find a way to track cosmic debris so that it doesn’t become a danger to future spacecraft, satellites and the next generation of humans venturing out into space. You know, the average teenager stuff.

Ever since then, Yang has been working to create an artificial neural network that can recognize patterns in how space junk moves and changes orbit. According to Forbes, her program can predict the future position of space junk with 98 percent accuracy—which is far more accurate than the statistical models developed by NASA. (Whoa.) Amassing remarkable awards like the 2017 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award and the CERN Special Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2016, Yang is now commercializing her research with her startup, Seer Tracking, all while attending Stanford University as a sophomore.

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your work that they probably don’t?

“While I’m managing my company, I am a full-time college student at Stanford University. My week is a constant push-and-pull between managing my academics, working on software for the company and overseeing company operations.”

What does being a woman mean to you today?

“To me, being a woman means embracing contradictions. It means being powerful while still embracing femininity. It means having an overbearing intellectual presence in a room while not being afraid of appreciating beauty and fashion. There’s a frivolous stereotype that a woman who puts too much effort into her appearance is someone who can’t be as readily trusted with serious matters, whilst men give off the impression that they don’t need to put in much effort to look great and be lauded. Being a woman means not being afraid of what you may be judged or stereotyped as.”

Habit that has changed your life?

“Reading a book for 30 minutes before I fall asleep each night and making an effort to stay off electronic devices before bedtime.”

Desert island question: If you could bring only three things, what would they be?

“A plane, a pilot and fuel (all to get off the desert island).”

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