Whiz-kid heads to university already an inventor
OTTAWA — After Daniel McInnis comes home after school, he’ll feed the dog, do his homework, eat dinner and, if he’s lucky, see some friends.
More unusually for a 17-yearo l d , he might have to attend a school board meeting as a peer-elected student trustee.
But McInnis will always make time to retreat to his “laboratory” — the basement — where he has engineered two potentially ground-breaking products that have won him accolades in the international teen science fair circuit. It might just be another all-nighter.
For many bright young minds, straight As and university admission applications are the central focus of their final years of high school, but McInnis also has developed a hockey helmet that promises to reduce concussions more than any other on the market, and a 3D scanner that can expedite bone-transplant surgery and draw up blueprints for custom prosthetics.
“It didn’t seem like I was doing anything that big,” says McInnis. “But when you go out there, present it, and look back on it, you realize that some of the things you were doing were really impactful.”
The soon-to-graduate Ottawa high school student appears to embody many of the lofty characterizations of Generation Z, a cohort born in the mid 1990s or later heralded as a generation of self-starting innovators who can change the world.
Emerging research has portrayed them as independent, motivated, digitally connected and environmentally conscious.
One study of 11,000 young people, published in the 2008 book Growing Up Digital by Don Tapscott found the majority would rather be smarter than better looking.
“In the next five to 10 years, I think a lot of people will be doing very different stuff while they’re still in high school or just starting university, which is really exciting to see,” McInnis says.
His own experiments began in Grade 8, right after his second — and worst — of three minor-hockey concussions.
Once the blurred vision, severe headaches and nausea subsided, he wondered what he could do to reduce brain injuries in contact sports.
He tested various helmets using a crash-test dummy head loaded with accelerometers and motion sensors, then designed a helmet he says offers five times the protection against both linear and rotational impacts. It won him the Best Junior Project award at the 2011 Canada-Wise Science Fair.