Desires to both learn about the world and work to change it for the better motivate 16 of Canada’s brightest young minds.
Hailing from high schools across all parts of the country, the 16 teenaged finalists chosen to represent Canada at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair beamed with excitement at a showcase event in Toronto before heading off to the site of this year’s 11th annual fair in Atlanta, Ga.
“It’s definitely been an experience of a lifetime,” said Michael Peters, 16, from Victoria, B.C.
His invention is the definition of simplicity: A wheelchair that straps the user’s legs into an array that keeps them in motion as the chair moves to prevent dangerous blood clots. Peters’ grandmother suffered a stroke in 2002 so he built the chair with her legacy in mind. Peters designed his chair to be easily manufactured because he hopes it will go into real production.
“Often the best solutions to the most difficult problems are the simplest,” Peters said.
Other finalists also had strong personal reasons for their research. Yale Michaels, a 16-year-old student from Winnipeg, Man., designed a way to better differentiate cancerous and non-cancerous cells in a person’s body in order to create a therapy that could target cancer cells in an early stage.
His own grandmother died of cancer, causing Michaels to realize how prevalent the disease is.
“Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer,” Michaels said.
Doug Cooper, country manager for Intel Canada, says Intel sees the annual fair as a key lifeline for developing the kind of talent central to its own success.
“The skills we see represented here are fundamental to the viability of our business,” Cooper said.
Science fairs aren’t just a fun diversion for smart kids, Cooper says. Real, marketable inventions and technologies have resulted from them. Case in point: The insulin dispenser.
“This is university-grade science,” he said.
Cooper suggests the biggest difference between science fairs 11 years ago and today is that kids are much more prepared to take ownership of their intellectual properties.
Some are already thinking business: Peters has started the patent process on his blood-clot-preventing wheelchair, while 16-year-old Roopa Suppiah from Deep River, Ont., greeted interviewers with her own business cards. Her project found an economically viable way to reduce the greenhouse gas effect by converting carbon dioxide from emissions into useful organic materials like ethanol.
Other projects included better solar panels to maximize energy collection, a way to use bacteria to regulate diseases like HIV and rheumatoid arthritis and even a new method for attaching horseshoes to horses’ hooves without nails.
Laurent Fradet, 17, from Sherbrooke, Que., who found a way to make bone cement safer, says the experience has opened his eyes.
“It’s really a trigger that’s brought me into science,” Fradet said.