Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canadian Teens Plan on Changing the World, Equipped with Passion and Smartphones

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canadian Teens Plan on Changing the World, Equipped with Passion and Smartphones

Article excerpt

Canadian teens plan on changing the world


TORONTO - When Bruce Gao was in high school, he visited an orphanage in China where he saw children huddled together in beds to share body heat.

It was monsoon season, and it was cold. There was heating in the building, but the solar panels meant to provide electricity weren't installed to their full capacity.

Gao, who is now 22, wondered what he could do about that.

He researched how solar panels should be positioned to soak up the most energy, which he said was "a little daunting" for a high schooler.

And then, he spoke publicly about his plans to create an app -- "I was a big computer programmer," he said nonchalantly of his time in high school -- while at the nationwide Shad program for "exceptional high school students."

Gao said that experience solidified his decision to actually make the smartphone app, SimplySolar, with a high school classmate. The app is now used in more than 130 countries.

It works using a combination of GPS and the built-in compass in smartphones. Users place their phones on top of the solar panels, and the app shows them when the panels are facing the most effective direction.

Pointing solar panels in the right direction can make them up to 40 per cent more effective, Gao said.

Now Gao is in his second year of medical school at the University of Calgary. He said that what he liked about coding and creating apps was the ability to help people, and he gets the same thing out of medicine.

The Shad program, which Gao said convinced him to build the app, is now in its 37th year. The 2016 program begins Monday, and more than 700 high school students will participate.

"One of the things we believe is that you can't really leave it to chance, that the best and brightest minds are going to develop to their capabilities," said Teddy Katz, a spokesperson for Shad.

So through the program, students travel to universities -- 12 are participating across the country -- where they listen to lectures from prominent university professors and business leaders.

They also work in groups to come up with a business proposal that creates a new product or service to solve a social problem. …

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