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Science Fair Finalist Studies Screens and the Brain

Brookings High School senior Zarin Rahman, 17, won $25,000 at the Intel Science Talent Search this week for her work on how computer and phone use are related to sleep quality, alertness and academic performance in kids in middle school and high school.
Brookings High School senior Zarin Rahman, 17, won $25,000 at the Intel Science Talent Search this week for her work on how computer and phone use are related to sleep quality, alertness and academic performance in kids in middle school and high school.Chris Ayers / Intel

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Do the hours you spend playing Flappy Bird mess with your sleep patterns?

One South Dakota high schooler with a passion for neuroscience set out to find out. And this week, Zarin Rahman, 17, won seventh place and a $25,000 scholarship at the Intel Science Talent Search for her work.

Brookings High School senior Zarin Rahman, 17, won $25,000 at the Intel Science Talent Search this week for her work on how computer and phone use are related to sleep quality, alertness and academic performance in kids in middle school and high school.
Brookings High School senior Zarin Rahman, 17, won $25,000 at the Intel Science Talent Search this week for her work on how computer and phone use are related to sleep quality, alertness and academic performance in kids in middle school and high school.Chris Ayers / Intel

"I’ve always loved science more than any other subject," the Brookings High School senior told NBC News. But a diagnosis of childhood epilepsy when she was 6, and routine visits to the doctors' office triggered a particular affection for brain biology.

These days, she is mostly interested in the adolescent brain. "The brain doesn’t mature until the age of 25 so it’s a critical period," she said.

Keenly aware of her own addiction to her phone and computer screens, she decided to investigate if extra hours on the laptop or phone had any correlation with sleep quality, or alertness the next day, or academic performance.

Rahman, who intends to major in neuroscience and psychology, hopes to publish her work soon. "I would also really love to raise this as a public health concern," she said.

But mostly, she wants to share her findings with other teenagers.

"I hope that coming from someone their age, they’re more likely to understand and make lifestyle changes."

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