Saskatchewan

Regina Grade 10 student using artificial intelligence to look for exoplanets

A Grade 10 student from Regina has won two awards at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Fredericton after he developed an algorithm to identify exoplanets from data too numerous to sift through manually. 

Too much data to look through manually, so Ali Rizvi developed algorithms

Rizvi took home a gold medal of excellence and an award for excellence in astronomy from the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Fredericton.

A Grade 10 student from Regina has won two awards at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Fredericton after he developed an algorithm to identify exoplanets from data too numerous to sift through manually. 

Exoplanets are planets which orbit other stars outside of the solar system.

"They're really hard to find using traditional techniques and telescopes here on Earth," the student, Ali Rizvi, told CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition on Thursday. 

"So, NASA launched a telescope in 2009 called the Kepler telescope. They recorded measurements for millions of stars and observed light values."

Rizvi came up with the idea after reading about the Kepler telescope reaching the end of its lifecycle. Ali figured there are likely more exoplanets which have not yet been discovered.

He looked at the methods currently being used and tried to improve upon them by using artificial intelligence. He defined what an exoplanet should look like and what shouldn't be there in his algorithms using existing data and then once the artificial intelligence knew what to look for, the algorithms were applied to new data.

No new exoplanets have been found yet but the opportunity remains as the algorithms run — but only on weekends. Rizvi said he has had support from his family and teachers, with help coming from his father, who's an engineer.

Artist's impression of a transiting exoplanet. Exoplanets are planets which orbit other stars outside of the solar system. (NASA, ESA, G. Bacon)

Rizvi took home a gold medal of excellence and an award for excellence in astronomy. The wins are something he didn't expect.

"It was definitely surreal," he said. "It just felt amazing at the moment and I tried to remain calm as I walked up."

He's plans on refining and improve the project to find more exoplanets. If he finds one, he'll maybe name it after himself. 

Rizvi plans on pursuing a career in computer science or computer engineering once he goes to university.

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