The Weston Youth Innovation Award, now in its 11th year, recognizes and supports young Canadians who apply science and technology creatively with the goal of making a positive difference.
Innovation at the Ontario Science Centre
In 2004, the Centre embarked on a completely new approach to science engagement, thanks to generous support from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. The renovation involved creating a new set of spaces in the building to foster young people’s innovation skills. Kidspark, HotZone, Challenge Zone and the hands-on Weston Family Innovation Centre all encourage young people to think, work and collaborate in new and innovative ways.
The Weston Youth Innovation Award
As part of the decided focus on innovation, the Westons and the Ontario Science Centre wanted to acknowledge the associated skills such as critical thinking, creativity and risk-taking. As such they created the Weston Youth Innovation Award for youth 14-18. Designed to encourage and recognize young Canadian innovators, the award provides students with a unique way to share their ideas and promote their work to a much larger audience.
Following a one-page essay and pitch-video, applicants are reviewed by a preliminary jury, which selects between 8 to 10 finalists to move forward. A final jury of science educators and industry leaders choose the five recipients.
The award offers $15,000 for first place, $8,500 for second, and three individual $3,500 prizes for third.
Meet the 2019 Award Winners
A national award, the 2019 recipients have the coasts covered, hailing from upper Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia. Representing the brightest innovators in the country, the 2019 winners displayed outstanding imagination, drive, passion and innovation in their work.
Says Sabrina Greupner, Manager of the Weston Family Innovation Centre: “I’m incredibly amazed not just at the types of winners we have – they are bright and engaged and really passionate about science and technology – but their curiosity is what impresses me the most. They are so keen to learn how something works, and how they can make it better.”
1st Place: Stella Bowles
Fifteen-year-old citizen scientist and environmental activist Stella Bowles from Upper LaHave, Nova Scotia is this year’s first place winner. Bowles carried out water testing and worked with local, provincial and federal governments to eliminate straight pipes that dump raw sewage into waterways on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.
When asked about what motivated her to begin her work, Stella explained that it all started when she was 11 years old, and really just wanted to swim in the river. “It gets really hot in the summer and I wanted to jump in the river. But my mom had always told me that it was unsafe to swim in — that people flush their toilets directly into the river. I felt like this was wrong.”
For her Grade 6 science project, Bowles started testing the river. In her words, “The results were disgusting.”
“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that this was what was happening in my river. According to Health Canada Standards, acceptable levels of Enterococci are 75 Colony Forming Units (CFU) per 100 millimetres for swimming and 175 CFU per 100 millimetres for boating and getting water on your skin. I got some results in the 1000s. I found this really appalling and gross, and wanted to share this with the community.”
After she publicized her finding through social media, her work generated attention from three levels of government, and her testing efforts led to 15.7 million dollars in funding to replace illegal straight pipes and clean up the river. Not all straight pipes are gone just yet – but 100 have been eliminated so far and septic tanks are arriving on lawns all the time for installation. A force of change, Bowles also teaches other youth to test their local water, sharing the story that kids — armed with good science, can make a difference.
2nd Place: Nicolas Fedrigo
Nicolas Fedrigo is an 18-year-old student from Victoria, having just finished his final year of high school. He took second place this year for redesigning a pedicle probe — a surgical instrument used in spinal reconstruction.
“The project aimed to make spinal fusions safer by redesigning the pedicle probe to provide instantaneous feedback on the probe’s location using a similar procedure to what exists today, all the while increasing accuracy of pedicle screw placement,” explained Fedrigo. Using sensors and microcontrollers, the probe warns the user by providing tactile and visual feedback that helps them avoid damage to the spinal cord.
Fedrigo tested his device in his kitchen using lamb vertebrae sourced from a local butcher.
“Lamb vertebrae are a standard proxy for human vertebrae,” he explained. “As surprised as the butcher may have been when I inquired about obtaining lamb vertebrae to perform trial back surgery on, they were very happy to support my work.”
This year’s national finalists included amazing teams and individuals who created inventions that can make a significant impact on the health and safety of Canadians.
- Abdullah Hadi and Jack Ceroni developed a computer program to run an autonomous robot prototype that predicts forest fires using computer simulations;
- Riya Karumanchi invented the SmartCane, a device that uses GPS, sensors, audio feedback and computer vision to help the visually impaired better navigate their surroundings; and
- Jonathan Lévesque from Lévis, Québec, created the QualyL Robotic Heart, an electronic organ that adjusts its pumping speed to the individual conditions of patients awaiting heart transplants.
All winners and finalists acknowledge winning the Weston Youth Innovation Award is incredibly meaningful. It gives their work greater visibility on a national stage, and helps inspire other young people that individuals — through science, passion and dedication — can make a difference.
“Through the past four years,” Fedrigo says, “I have been pursuing innovation to create a positive impact on my community and society. I am so grateful and honoured that the Weston Youth Innovation Award recognized me for the embodiment of these values.”
Previous Weston Youth Innovation Award recipients have gone on to obtain patents for their inventions, win the Google Science Fair, appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and receive a youth leadership appointment from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Nicolas Fedrigo has gone on to win multiple international science fairs in Asia and Europe, and won the Platinum Award (for best Senior Project) at the Canada-Wide Science Fair last year. For her part, Stella Bowles has won the Governor’s General Medal, published a paper in a scientific journal, written a book and won over a dozen awards for both her scientific innovation and environmental activism.
“The most inspiring part of this,” explains Greupner, “is the impact young people can have on other young people. The award is a great way of getting young people interested in science and technology. It shows that there are lots of careers and lots of opportunities in all kinds places.”
The 2020 competition opens in mid-October. Know an outstanding youth who is making an impact through science and innovation? Learn more about the Weston Youth Innovation Award.
RBC clients can visit the Weston Youth Innovation Centre and learn first-hand about the incredible work of this year’s Youth Award winners.
When paying using an eligible RBC card online, clients receive 30% off general admission ticket(s).
Simply sign into RBC Offers and click on the Ontario Science Centre banner. (*Offer excludes IMAX® films, special exhibitions, and parking fees).
Bring along some kids and show them the wonders and power of science — and the positive impact young scientists can have on the world.
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