Last week, the Science Fair Foundation of BC announced the winners of the 2022 Youth Innovation Showcase, a science competition that encourages youth to explore creative ways to solve everyday challenges with innovative ideas.
We spoke with winners Liam Pope-Lau & Fraser Tuck from Victoria, BC and Timothy Cai from Surrey, BC both won the title Innovators of the Year and a $5,000 grand prize.
Liam and Fraser from St. Michaels University School won with their innovation, LifeHeat: The Self-Heating Lifejacket, a lifejacket that generates heat when immersed in water developed to prevent hypothermia.
Timothy Cai from Fraser Heights Secondary School in Surrey, BC also won big with his innovation, The Water Lily: A Miniature Vacuum Solar Still. The Water Lily is a water purification device that acts as an affordable and compact solution for in-need communities to provide them with fresh water.
What was the inspiration for your innovation?
Liam & Fraser: Two years ago, in the summer before I was in grade six, I was learning how to sail when my boat capsized and I fell into the ocean. Even though it was summer, it was actually really cold, and when I got home I looked up hypothermia and saw how many people die of hypothermia each year, and how preventable it is. When the science fair at school was coming up, I asked my friend Fraser if he would be interested in doing a project on a self-heating life jacket to prevent hypothermia and he liked the idea, so we started thinking about what would be needed and different ways to create heat.
Timothy: Water use has always been a key issue that I often think about, ever since I learned about how only some unthinkably small percentage of the world’s water was drinkable. That thought stayed with me until I first began ideating for the South Fraser Regional Science fair in tenth grade, where it evolved into this big box that fit into a solar trough and could boil a lot of water at once. I revisited this invention this year after hearing about hurricanes in Florida and record-breaking droughts. I then created a smaller, more compact, easily manufacturable version that resembled a flower, thus, the Water Lily was born.
What is something you have learned through this process?
Liam: I have really learned that there are problems all around us that need solving, and sometimes it takes a mistake to find them. We also failed over and over trying to make a prototype that would work well enough to be effective, so we learned to keep trying. So sometimes failing can get you farther than you expect. I also realized how much opportunity for innovation there is all around us, we just need to use our imagination.
Timothy: That not every STEM project has to be complicated! A lot of beauty in engineering comes from simplicity, not complexity. My previous projects were all about electronics, coding, and multiple systems linking and working with each other. The Water Lily combined two basic physics principles and was just a few parts; the rest of the work was just fine-tuning the design to be more and more suitable for its use case. I think it’s an important lesson to be learned; the best part is no part!
What has participating in the Youth Innovation Showcase been like for you?
Fraser: It was really fun and helped us keep momentum going because it provided us with deadlines and things that we needed to do, so we kept on going.
Liam: Participating in the Youth Innovation Showcase has been such an incredible learning experience. I actually attended the first Awards Show at the BC Tech Summit in 2019 as part of the Youth Day, and it was so inspiring to hear the finalists make their pitches and talk so passionately about their projects. I met the winner after the awards show, Ray Liu, and he really encouraged me to try out my ideas and keep looking for problems to solve.
Timothy: It’s been quite the journey. I participated two years ago, with an easily custom-fitted mask design. Since then, I’ve participated in a dozen more competitions and learned so much more. It’s an amazing experience every time, taking an idea from concept to product, and having it reviewed, critiqued, and (sometimes) complimented by industry judges! I highly recommend the Youth Innovation Showcase for anyone interested in STEM and has got a project to show off.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into STEM?
Fraser: Pick a topic that really interests you, and that you think will make an impact in the world. STEM isn’t always working in a lab; it can be super interesting.
Liam: For those looking to get into STEM, I would say just explore your own interests and what you are passionate about, and push your boundaries. Be creative with your ideas and ask yourself not only “why?” but also “why not?”.
Timothy: Find something that you love about STEM and pursue it. Every field is fascinating in its own way, so whether it be biomedical engineering, environmental chemistry, or rocket science, there’s something for everyone. If you stick with it, create projects and learn more from a particular field, you’ll find more and more things you love about it. The most important thing to do is to curate passion. There’s no one who can teach you how to like science and engineering; only you can do it for yourself. Don’t do it for your resume or for an award. Do it because you want to, because every time you think about STEM makes you excited. And the way you do that is to experience it for yourself.
What are the next steps for you?
Liam & Fraser: After winning the Youth Innovation Showcase, we’re thankful for the feedback we received from the judges, who are all scientists and/or industry experts. We plan on following the judges’ advice and applying for a patent and adapting LifeHeat for a variety of users, such as children. We also plan to reach out to mentors, who study hypothermia and safety departments in the maritime industries, do investor outreach, and share their experience in the science and innovation process.
Timothy: The dream is to have the Water Lily be distributed in areas of need, whether it be after disasters like hurricanes or in places like Haiti, surrounded by water but lacking infrastructure to take advantage of it. This means that the Water Lily needs to be ready for mass manufacturing, something I’ve never designed for. Version 2 is designed for this, and costs about two dollars to produce. Now the issue is optimizing the design for injection moulding, and then sending it off to a low-volume (ie. less than hundreds of thousands of pieces) manufacturer to be produced.