Student spotlight: Thomas Chia changes community with i-SIGHT


Photo used with permission of Thomas Chia. Senior Thomas Chia works on his code for his program i-SIGHT that helps detect eye disease on Feb.1.

Gayatri Dhavala, Business Manager

With a technological future in mind, many STEM students in the community are enhancing their learning in programming and are applying it to the real world. Senior Thomas Chia is one such student who is working to make a positive change through his intellect, skill, and love for learning. 

Chia started programming in his freshman year when he took technology-related classes such as Computer Science Principles. He later took more advanced classes that taught him the basics of coding and Java, paired with advanced science classes due to his interest in the medical area, which also kept him engaged during the pandemic.

“I started looking more into deep learning in general, so I started learning more about programming because I believe the future is technology so it started from there.” Chia said. 

Chia’s passion and skill in the medical-technology center led to the creation of i-SIGHT: an artificial intelligence program that can help detect eye diseases in an accurate and efficient manner compared to the expensive tests that are done to diagnose eye infections at present. The objective of the program is to help diagnose curable diseases and prevent blindness by detecting diseases like diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration early. The development of i-SIGHT required a lot of coding and programming which took a lot of time. Chia also had the guidance of his technology class teachers from the CTE Department while making the program. 

“The inspiration for i-SIGHT came from when I was working on optimal ophthalmologic AI’s and although there is a lot of AI in the medical field, they are inaccessible because they require supercomputers,” Chia said. “The point of i-SIGHT is to take what is given and created in the industry and take it to the next level by including more people and reducing the computational requirement, making it more accessible to everyone.”

i-SIGHT can be used when a patient goes to a general practitioner or eye specialist, and their eye images will be sent to and analyzed by software created by Chia.

“My software analyzes the eye images and data which will come up with results and will tell the patient what is wrong with them,” Chia said. “[i-SIGHT] doesn’t just tell the patients what is wrong with them but also tells them what steps to take next.”

Aside from the creation of i-SIGHT and being a technological inventor, Chia is noted to be a scholarly student by his subject teachers and has also been recognized as a highly accomplished student by the Career and Technical Education Department.

 “The unique thing about him was that although his aptitude was in the STEM area, he always nurtured curiosity in all of his subjects and understood that his learning connected to other aspects of his life, which made him work with clarity,” English teacher Kimberly Scott said.

Chia is also a contestant in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which hosts competitors who have a mind for STEM. Chia’s project focuses on utilizing AI for ophthalmic diagnosis and is more advanced this year as it can use unlabeled data and labeled data for AI creation allowing the AI to learn more so it can be more accurate and faster.

“When I had Thomas virtually over [the pandemic], he would talk to me about his project and the incorporation of AI ,which was very interesting,” science teacher Anne Fenton said. “He was one of the most persevering and curious students I had, and although his ideas were very advanced, he would always explain his thoughts in a driven and nice way.”

Along with the development of i-SIGHT, Chia manages the pressures that come with being a senior such as grades, college application, social life and extracurriculars. 

Thomas usually stays focused on his work so he keeps his grades up, and he also works on other projects in school to stay productive, which contributes to his accomplishments outside the classroom like his programs,” senior Jake Smith said. “His focus and work ethic definitely are key to his accomplishments, and he also doesn’t overwork himself so he avoids burnout, like by playing fortnite and clash royale.”

Although the future is not set in stone, Chia intends to further his learning and continue his passion in whatever he does, especially in medical technology which will contribute to a positive change in the future.

When [one] goes about their work, life and relationships the way Thomas does, I think the world is a better place because [he] does all he can to make it a better place.”

— Kimberly Scott

“I see a deep issue in society, and I know that I have the capability to help solve it, which gives me motivation,” Chia said. “An advice I would give is that when a [student] goes to class and has a project, they should spend time on it for learning and not just a grade as society provides a lot of opportunities for deep learning.”

In addition to his scholarly achievements, Chia was nominated by the CTE department for the Presidential Scholars award and attended the national semifinal. Chia was one of the five members in the state who was selected from the CTE sector which is one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students who demonstrate excellence. Chia will be studying at The University of Virginia and hopes to go into the sector of Health Informatics, which combines medicine with technology.

“When I think about what an ideal Chantilly graduate should represent I think about Thomas,” Scott said. “When [one] goes about their work, life and relationships the way Thomas does, I think the world is a better place because [he] does all he can to make it a better place.”