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Student Raymond Wang is pictured next to his 3D printed air circulation invention at his parents home in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail)
Student Raymond Wang is pictured next to his 3D printed air circulation invention at his parents home in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail)

10 under 20

High-flying invention marks B.C. student as top science mind of his age Add to ...

The Globe’s B.C. bureau is profiling 10 young people aged 20 and under who are doing great things in fields ranging from arts to science to activism. At 17, inventor Raymond Wang is in talks with major aircraft manufacturers about his device that will improve air quality in aircraft cabins.

Grade 12 is always a busy, exciting time for students but Raymond Wang has had a little more on his schedule than most.

In addition to preparing for final exams, the St. George’s School student in Vancouver has been doing public speaking engagements, including giving a TED talk and making a presentation at the Society of Experimental Test Pilots annual symposium in the United States.

In addition, he’s been talking with Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS about how to get aviation regulatory approval for a device he developed for a high school science fair.

Last spring, the 17-year-old vaulted into the headlines when he won $75,000 (U.S.) and first prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which is like the Olympics for young science students. It is the world’s largest high school science fair, and to get top prize all Mr. Wang had to do was beat out 1,700 brilliant students who had been selected from 422 science fairs in more than 75 countries.

His idea was to make aircraft cabins healthier by improving air quality.

“Essentially, after doing various computational and visual simulations, I designed a patent-pending device that, for the cost of about $1,000, reduces disease transmission in planes by about 55 times,” Mr. Wang said.

He didn’t just come up with a smart idea, but he went into a lab and proved it would work.

“I generated the industry’s first high-fidelity simulations for aircraft cabin air flow,” Mr. Wang said. “A lot of people have studied the outside of airplanes extensively, and understandably so, because the airplane has to fly. But what I’ve been able to do … after 32 different simulations, is come up with a solution [to improve air quality], economically without the need to take the whole cabin apart or spend tens of thousands of man-hours or millions of dollars.”

Simply put, what Mr. Wang has done is figure out how, by modifying the air-circulation pattern, to isolate passengers in their own cushions of air, isolating them from the germs coughed and sneezed by fellow travellers.

Now all he has to do, between studying for exams and finding time to hang out with friends, is get regulatory approval for the device.

“You know those fasten seat belt signs you see on planes? If you were to change the font for that or the wording just a bit, you’d have to go through about two years of regulatory recertification,” Mr. Wang said. “So you can get an idea of how much red tape there is in this area.”

To help navigate through that complex world, Mr. Wang has been in talks with Airbus and Boeing.

“Getting this through regulatory approval, it really pays to work with these experts,” he said.

Mr. Wang said it was difficult at times balancing his work on the science fair project with his regular homework.

“During the research process it was a challenge sometimes. You know, I need to go home and get my school work done and often the simulations ran deep into the night,” he said.

But he managed to make it all work.

“The satisfaction I get coming up with a solution to a problem people all over the world have been having difficulty tackling, and to be able to bring something new to the table, whether it’s a new finding or new innovation, that’s kind of what keeps me going,” he said.

Mr. Wang is currently focused on graduating from Grade 12 and getting accepted to a good university. He’s applied to several in Canada and the United States. Harvard has offered him a spot, but he wants to weigh all the options before making a final choice.

“I’m thinking of studying business or engineering,” he said. “With engineering you have that foundation to take an idea through implementation [and] with the business, you have that practical mindset.”

Mr. Wang said his ambition is to “not only [have] these cool ideas, but actually come up with things that deserve to exist and things that can make a real difference in these major issues – like aircraft cabin air flow and like renewable energy.”

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