Imagine how you would change the world, if you were able to work with a brilliant team of colleagues and the latest technology.  You might help the blind to read, improve the survivability of cancer patients, help women in underdeveloped communities receive proper pre-natal care, or-as a team of Southern California students have done-create a smart-phone app that allows health workers in the field to examine a drop of blood for the presence of malaria.

In fact, the recently announced four winning finalists in Microsoft's Imagine Cup 2011 competition addressed each of these social issues, and the group of SoCal students were on the team that earned a terrific second-place finish.  Team LifeLens-consisting of Wilson To from the University of California Davis; Jason Wakizaka from University California Los Angeles; and advisor Helena Xu, a recent grad from University California San Diego, along with Tristan Gibeau of the University of Central Florida and Harvard's Cy Khormaee-developed a high-magnification microball lens that attaches to the image sensor of a Windows Phone 7.  It allows for reliable examination in the field of a blood smear to spot the presence of malaria, a disease that every year takes the lives of thousands of children in Africa and Asia.

Team LifeLens members, who earned a $4,000 prize, placed second only to Team Note-Taker, which created an apparatus using Microsoft OneNote, a portable camera and a Tablet PC to help low-vision students take notes in class.  It is particularly noteworthy that this year's 74,000 U.S. competitors were focused on helping to solve these kinds of real-life global problems by employing science, technology, engineering and math-areas that Microsoft is dedicated to advancing around the world. 

While these technical disciplines may seem to operate in a world of cold numbers, formulas and theorems, they actually form the world's most important repository for imagination, inspiration and community service.  Congratulations to Team LifeLens and to all the amazing students who brought their insights to Imagine Cup 2011, changing the way we think about the challenges we face and thereby changing our vision of the future.