In this special Maclean’s report, we profile Canada’s future leaders: an elite group of young people who are outstanding in their fields, from sport and engineering to medicine and politics. To view each individual’s profile, click their photo, below.
School: University of Waterloo, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Whose leadership inspires you? Martha Moraa (founder and operator of Faraja Children’s Home in Kenya)
When Lauren Hayward announced to friends and family in Winnipeg that she was relocating to Waterloo, Ont., to study physics at the world-renowned Perimeter Institute, they were supportive—and some were also surprised. “Lots of my friends are not physicists,” says Hayward, 25, who’s now completing her Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo and Perimeter. “It can be hard to understand what a physicist does in a normal day,” she admits. Yet Hayward’s work in physics, much of it computer modelling, could have a profound impact.
In a recent study published in the prestigious journal Science, she and collaborators at Perimeter, Waterloo and Harvard University announced a breakthrough: They’d found a way to describe the transition phase to superconductivity—the phenomenon in which electricity flows under zero resistance—with no energy loss. Understanding this transition, or “pseudogap phase,” is a critically important step to developing next-generation superconductors, ones that can operate at room temperature, she says. The work continues.
For Hayward, being a young physicist—and a young female physicist—has both its challenges and advantages. “I feel like I can make more of a difference,” she says. Hayward’s just at the start of what’s sure to be a long career; with interests that include teaching, she hopes to inspire others who come after her. Being a woman in a male-dominated field, she says, “helps me stand out.”
School: University of Ottawa
Program: Master of engineering management
Whose leadership inspires you? Benjamin Zander, author of The Art of Possibility
While studying electrical engineering at the University of Ottawa, Frank Bouchard found himself wasting a ton of paper scratching out mistakes on his math assignments. So he began taking notes in erasable ink on transparencies, those clear plastic pages teachers use on overhead projectors. Last January, in need of a business idea for a class on entrepreneurship, he thought of turning his binder full of transparencies into a reusable notebook. The pitch didn’t exactly knock the socks off his engineering classmates, and Bouchard’s project ended up two people shy of the required five-person team. “Everybody else in the class had these really complicated ideas and ours seemed a little too simple to work on,” the 25-year-old says. “We were the reject group of the class.”
With the help of classmates Thomas Sychterz and Toby Maurice, Bouchard’s idea became Wipebook, a book that acts as a cross between a whiteboard and a notepad. Its glossy, laminated pages can handle a variety of wet- and dry-erase markers and are easy to wipe clean and reuse, or they can be removed and scanned into a computer for safekeeping. In November, Bouchard put the project on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, aiming to make $4,000. He raised nearly $425,000 in pre-sales. “We were kind of stunned, because demand hadn’t been all that significant,” he says. With orders coming from as far away as Singapore and the Netherlands, the group sourced production from a factory in Montreal. Sales of Wipebook, which costs $30 and up, average 30 a day on the company’s website.
Last month, the group filmed an episode of CBC’s Dragons’ Den, set to air next season. (As per the show’s rules, Bouchard can’t discuss the outcome.) Despite the success of Wipebook, Bouchard hasn’t quit his day job coordinating the Adventures in Engineering and Science program at the University of Ottawa, a summer camp aimed at getting local kids and teens interested in engineering. As for the class project that sparked Wipebook? Bouchard grins: “We got an A.”
School: Sir William Mulock Secondary School, Newmarket, Ont.
Whose leadership inspires you? My father, Brian McDavid
In the fall of 2011, the McDavid household was abuzz. Hockey prodigy Connor McDavid, then 14, recalls his mother, Kelly, meticulously cleaning the house, while his father, Brian, a lifelong Boston Bruins fan, waited nervously for their special guest to arrive. As for Connor himself, he was simply in a state of disbelief.
It’s not every day Bobby Orr comes for breakfast.
But McDavid, now 17, is not the type of hockey talent who comes along every day, either. (It’s one reason why Orr became his agent.) At 15, McDavid was granted “exceptional player” status, allowing him to be drafted into the Ontario Hockey League a year early. He joined the Erie Otters in Pennsylvania and won the league’s rookie of the year award. He followed that up with a MVP honour at the under-18 world championship playing with Team Canada last April.
But if Canadians were wondering how good this young hockey phenomenon could one day become, Sportsnet magazine let it be known, with a November 2013 cover story: “Better than Crosby.”
McDavid laughs when reminded of the cover comparing him to a player he idolizes. “A little bit over the top,” he says. “By no means do I think I’m better than Crosby at all.” For his age, however, he deserves the comparison. In December, McDavid was only the sixth 16-year-old to play with Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. (Crosby was the most recent before him, a decade ago.) He has the speed, the intensity, the work ethic—all reasons why he’s widely expected to be the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft. And whichever lucky team wins that draft lottery will certainly sell plenty of No. 97 jerseys.
“I guess you could say he is kind of ‘the Next One,’ ” Jim Nill, the general manager of the Dallas Stars, said last year. “Is he Crosby? I think he is the next guy.”
School: St. Michaels University School, Victoria, B.C.
Whose leadership inspires you? Marie Curie, Nobel prize-winning scientist
Ann Makosinski, 16, of Victoria, spent part of March break working with a patent lawyer, and the rest prepping for the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in May. She’s looking forward to seeing some of her “Google buddies” again, the people she met last year in California when she won the Google Science Fair for her invention of a thermoelectric flashlight—a win that catapulted her to near-celebrity status. Suddenly, she was receiving invitations to Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and, most exciting of all, New York. She recalls sitting in physics class one day and getting an email from The Tonight Show. Soon she was on stage showing Jimmy Fallon how the flashlight bulb, powered by the heat of one’s hand, lights up, no batteries required. Fallon showed her his “invention,” an edible cereal bowl, before telling the crowd, “I’m going to work for her one day.”
While the fame happened overnight, her invention took years of tinkering. She entered a science fair in seventh grade with a project based on the Seebeck principle, which states that if one side of a juncture between two different metals is heated, electricity is produced. That project used a candle, computer parts and something called Peltier tiles to power an MP3 player.
Then she moved to a more pressing problem. A friend she met in the Philippines while visiting family told her that studying was difficult because she didn’t have electricity to power lights at night. Batteries needed charging, so Makosinski got to work on an alternative. At her ninth-grade science fair, she presented a hand-cranked torch that worked but was too noisy. It was for her 10th-grade science fair that she hit on the idea of using the heat of a hand wrapped around a hollow tube of Peltier tiles to light the bulb.
As for what she made in eighth grade, she won’t say much other than it, too, was a way of harnessing alternative energy sources. “I can’t describe it fully,” she says, “because I want to revamp it. I think it has a lot of potential.”
School: University of Alberta, Edmonton
Whose leadership inspires you? Jacqueline Ha, a Ph.D. student in medicine at McGill University
Danny (Yuhao) Huang, 20, got an early start on cancer research that helped get his name on three (soon to be four) publications before he even finishes his third year of an undergraduate degree. In Grade 11, the Edmontonian was selected for the Heritage Youth Researcher summer program, which provides exceptional Alberta teens with access to university labs. That summer, he studied a modification of a protein believed to play a role in prostate cancer, work that was promising enough to be passed on to a graduate student. Huang didn’t mind giving it up; cancer research is a team effort and he’s a big advocate of collaboration.
After hearing from a colleague in the HYRS program that there weren’t many opportunities for young people to explore research careers in her rural hometown, he started TeamUP Science, a charity that develops programming for a broad audience, including underprivileged, rural and Aboriginal teens. TeamUP’s flagship event is the annual two-day Interdisciplinary Science Competition, where high school students are bused to the university, given a research question and offered labs and teaching assistants to help them figure it out. They also learn about scientific careers and admissions.
Huang is always looking for ways to connect people to opportunities. In September, he and a few friends started U-Collab, short for University-Collaborate, a website where Alberta students can post ads seeking help with projects, whether they need a developer for a club website or marketing expertise for a start-up. More recently, he launched the National Student Network, a website that posts collaboration opportunities for students across Canada, and also connects young people with student mentors. “Everyone who is provided access to opportunities and given guidance and mentorship is more likely to make an impact on society,” he says. “It’s taken root in everything I do.”
School: University of Waterloo
Program: Mechanical engineering
Whose leadership inspires you? Elon Musk of SpaceX, PayPal and Tesla Motors
Dominic Toselli, 22, wanted to spend a year of his degree in Italy. He didn’t know Italian and the University of Waterloo didn’t have an exchange agreement with Polytechnic University of Milan, so he spent two years taking lessons until an exchange agreement was in place. He passed all his exams, including the orals, and even found time to shoot models for his photography business.
Toselli is a master at making things happen, whether it’s the varsity squash team, proficiency in piano or impressing his co-op supervisors. On a work placement at Apple in California, he pitched the design team a mechanism that will allow a camera component to detach from a product like an iPhone if it hits the ground, reducing the likelihood of anything breaking. Steve Zadesky, vice-president of iPod/iPhone design, was so impressed, the company took out a patent that had tech blogs buzzing in March. “It wasn’t easy,” says Toselli. “It definitely made the work term.”
On a co-op term at Shell, Toselli had another idea that so impressed engineers near Fort McMurray, Alta., that he was flown on a private jet to present it to researchers in Calgary. His boss told him that his analysis, showing that human factors were behind a particular heat exchanger problem, will save the company $1 million per year.
One idea that stuck from his co-op terms at Shell and Cenovus (another oil sands firm) was how frustrated engineers were that oil and gas leaks could go unnoticed for years, potentially contaminating water and cutting into profits. The result is PetroPredict, a six-month-old company Toselli and a partner started that will use data analytics to find leaks. Their pitch has garnered awards, including $25,000 from Waterloo business incubator VeloCity. Toselli lined up a few pilot projects in Calgary over his Christmas and reading breaks, and says investors are lining up, too. So where does he find time for the business during his final term of school? He meets with his partner online most nights, between midnight and 4 a.m.
School: Thompson Rivers University
Program: Bachelor of public administration
Whose leadership inspires you? Carl Sagan (astrophysicist)
Trevor Loke’s first run at political office came as a protest. After two neighbours on his street in Surrey, B.C., were killed in gang-related attacks in 2009, Loke organized rallies that attracted hundreds of protesters, cabinet ministers and local mayors. His efforts also caught the notice of the B.C. Green Party, which asked Loke, then 20, to run in the provincial election. A long shot, he instead spent most of the campaign working to elect Vicki Huntington, an independent MLA from Delta. Impressed by his work, she hired him on a six-month contract to help set up her constituency office.
Photograph by Simon Hayter
Loke’s second foray into politics came the following year, when the Vancouver Park board cancelled his hockey team’s fundraiser at a local community centre to give the venue to another event. Incensed, Loke pestered park commissioners, who eventually reinstated the fundraiser—and then asked Loke if he was interested in running for the board in 2011. This time he won, making Loke, now 25, Vancouver’s youngest elected official. Over the past three years, Loke has tackled several ambitious issues, including reducing chlorine levels in city pools and spearheading a single membership card for the city’s 24 community centres. In doing so, he locked horns with neighbourhood groups keen to maintain control over their local facilities. (Six groups have challenged the board in court.) “It really spoke to the issue of communities being their own silos,” says Loke.
When not setting policy, Loke found the time to launch a crowd-funding platform for non-profit groups, called Weeve, which he sold to Vancouver-based LX Ventures last year for an undisclosed sum. He also consults for Nextdoor.com, a San Francisco tech start-up. His long-term goal is to apply to law school, but for now, he’s focused on his re-election campaign in October. Far from being a handicap in politics, Loke says his youth has been an advantage: “There are not a lot of people, when they look at me, who necessarily think ‘politician,’ and that’s a good thing,” he says. “They don’t prejudge you.”
Whose leadership inspires you? Demi Lovato
Molly Burke, 20, has shared a stage with the likes of Al Gore, Demi Lovato and Malala Yousafzai. But before she began telling her story of overcoming vision loss, bullying and mental illness to crowds of 20,000, she had hit rock bottom.
At age four, Burke, a native of Oakville, Ont., was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which causes progressive vision loss. As her vision disappeared, her friends began to distance themselves. By Grade 8, that distancing had turned into bullying. Then one day, Molly fell down a flight of stairs. “I had to rely on my bullies to help me get around safely,” said Burke, who was using crutches at the time. Weeks later, a group of girls led her into a nearby forest, broke her crutches and left her alone. Unable to see or walk, she had to call her mother on her cellphone to come rescue her. It was a pivotal moment.
Burke fell into a deep depression, and contemplated suicide. Music, therapy and a support circle got her back on track, but she also revisited an old talent. Burke was five years old when she first spoke publicly for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and was comfortable on the stage from the beginning. “I started before I knew that people should be afraid to speak in public,” says Burke.
For her 18th birthday, she attended a speech by Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children, and tracked him down after the show. Through Kielburger’s Me to We organization, Burke travelled to Kenya and was hired as a keynote speaker. “I feel like this has been my university experience,” she says.
Burke says it’s been challenging telling her story without becoming emotional, but she feels it’s been worth it. Shortly after her first speaking engagement with We Day, an annual event organized by Free the Children with the aim of empowering youth, a teen approached her and said he had just been on Facebook writing a series of apologies. “He said, ‘I realized for the first time in my life that I’m a bully and that I hurt people.’ ”
School: University of Toronto
Program: Bachelor of music
Whose leadership inspires you? John Tuttle, director of music at Trinity College
“The organ is not a dying instrument, by any means. It doesn’t have the publicity it used to have, though I hope that’s changing,” says 24-year-old Toronto organist Rachel Mahon. She recently gave the instrument a publicity boost herself when she was appointed organ scholar at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the first woman to ever hold such a position at the famous cathedral. The appointment was noticed and covered by the press more than one might expect for a classical organ scholarship. “As an organist, it’s a huge deal,” Mahon says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s just not normally recognized by the greater public, I think.”
When she’s not busy with her regular duties, Mahon tries to get the public interested in the organ by playing in a duo called Organized Crime, and performing in matching costumes with fellow organist Sarah Svendsen. Mahon calls it “a very humorous and interactive show, where people are free to shout out things. And we play music that is not necessarily idiomatic to the organ,” such as the theme from Star Wars.
Although Mahon is heading to London and Svendsen is studying in America, Mahon says they are “very much a functioning duo. We plan to devote a lot of time to that in the future, and we hope to tour around more of Canada and the United States.” Playing both at revered cathedrals and for crossover audiences, they’re two different sides of what the instrument can do, and Rachel Mahon intends to keep doing both.
—Jaime J. Weinman
School: Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, St. Catharines, Ont.
Whose leadership inspires you? Aly Raisman, 2012 Canadian Olympic gold medallist in gymnastics
The summer before starting Grade 9, Varsha Jayasankar of St. Catharines, Ont., was visiting family in southern India. She found herself eating a lot of mango ginger—a plant closely related to turmeric. “My grandpa was cutting it up and putting it in everything,” says Jayasankar, 17. “I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘To be healthy,’ ” referring to a long-held belief that the plant offers powerful antimicrobial beneﬁts. Jayasankar set out to investigate: “I said, ‘I’ll prove you wrong.’ ”
With initial guidance from her father, Jay Subramanian, a professor at the University of Guelph, Jayasankar began her research, eventually developing a powerful extract of mango ginger. This year, she isolated a new antimicrobial compound from it. “I’ve tested it against plant pathogenic and human pathogenic bacteria,” including C. difficile and MRSA, which plague Canadian hospitals and health care facilities. The compound has proven highly effective, she says, a promising new ally in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bugs are “developing resistance [to drugs] and it’s a problem,” Jayasankar explains. “We need new sources to fight them,” and mango ginger could be a candidate.
Jayasankar’s work has netted her plenty of recognition, including a 2013 Manning Innovation Achievement Award, and the gold at the 2013 Canada-Wide Science Fair. In May, she’s off to Los Angeles to represent Canada at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s biggest pre-college science competition. Her grandpa, she says, is “quite excited” about her impressive achievements. Not only that—on the subject of mango ginger, he was proven right.
School: Douglas College, Vancouver
Program: Business administration and management
Whose leadership inspires you? Steve Jobs, Apple’s late founder and CEO
Miguel Kudry, 21, has been developing websites since he was 14 years old and once made an online radio station to impress his friends. Since moving to Vancouver from Venezuela five years ago, he’s spent many late nights trying to turn his web savvy into a business. In 2012, he launched Floggia.com, a photo-sharing site, but it struggled to compete with Flickr and Instagram. After a year, he shut it down to try something new. “Writing the first line of code is always the hardest part,” he says, “but even if you fail, it’s a great learning process.”
In early 2013, he launched HelpHub, a web-based tutoring service. It has file sharing, a virtual whiteboard and video-conferencing, which make online tutoring as easy as the face-to-face kind (easier, in fact, since users need not travel to meet or even be in the same city). At first it seemed like another flop. Then Kudry realized students were visiting, but too shy to call potential tutors. His solution was a feature that allows visitors who type in what they’re seeking to instantly see a list of 10 potential tutors and a “start free chat” button beside each of the names. Tutors are notified by text message of the possible client so they can hop online and chat.
The chatting is free, but if they move to video-conferencing, they’re billed by the minute. HelpHub takes a five per cent cut. With the site approaching 1,000 tutors and users paying for the service regularly, Kudry convinced Vancouver’s Sora Capital to invest $250,000 in March. He had met the private equity firm’s president, retired NHL player Paul Reinhart, during a marketing internship last summer. The investment means he can slow down a bit and hire an employee. “You tend to forget about yourself when you’re too focused on the product,” he says. “I’m starting to realize when to say, ‘That’s enough work for today.’ ”
School: Académie Ste. Cécile, Windsor, Ont.
Whose leadership inspires you? Nelson Mandela
When Alexander Deans, a Grade 11 student at Académie Ste. Cécile in Windsor, Ont., was walking around his hometown a few years ago, he noticed a woman struggling to cross the street. “I went up to her and asked if she needed any help and I realized she was visually impaired,” says Deans. “I saw that she didn’t have any independence and couldn’t navigate well.” Science-obsessed since the third grade, Deans’s natural next step was to go home and invent a digital tool that would help blind people get around town unassisted. “The best part of science is using it to make other people’s lives better,” he says.
Months later, after teaching himself how to program online, in chat forums with Internet users from around the world, Deans invented the iAid—a set-up of four ultrasonic sensors mounted to a belt that can scan the space around a visually impaired person for potential obstacles. If the wearer of the device is indoors, she can navigate with an intuitive built-in joystick; if she’s outdoors, she can run the device off Bluetooth on a cellphone. Deans’s invention won the platinum award for best intermediate platform at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Lethbridge, Alta., last year. He’s currently in the process of getting a patent for his new invention, which he tested recently on 11 individuals at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. “They said it improved their confidence of navigation,” says Deans.
The 16-year-old, who likes to play tennis and go sailing when he’s not inventing stuff, still isn’t entirely sure what he’s going to do after high school. “Maybe engineering or medicine,” he says. “But I definitely want to stick around in Canada.”