Meet Austin Wang: The World's Top Young Innovator

Tue, 2016-05-17 16:27 -- Jessie MacAlpine

What was the motivation behind your research project? What sparked the idea?

In grade 8 we were required to do a science fair project, so I did some work with hydrogen fuel cells. In grade 9, I discovered bacteria could do the same thing and I was blown away. I made a microbial fuel cell (MFC) from a cashew box and some graphite to see if bacteria in my backyard could generate electricity and that was the start of it all. The answers to my questions become the start of new questions, and I just kept building on it bit by bit. I don’t think there was a Eureka moment with my project, it just got here one step at a time.


What is your favourite memory from Intel ISEF this year?

Just hanging out and chatting with the rest of team-Canada was my favourite part of ISEF. I made many close friends, learned a lot about some cool research, and was really inspired by the things these brilliant innovators from around Canada were doing. We also had some crazy moments, but I’ll keep that in Phoenix.


What does science fair mean to you?

To me science fair is all about youth and innovation. Science fairs are proof that young people are capable of changing the world with their work as long as they are passionate, hard-working, and patient. Beyond the “science” part of science fair, it was also an opportunity to build life-long friendships and create unforgettable memories.


In thirty years, what invention do you think we will look back on and think “wow that changed the world?”

I want to say MFC technology, but I think it’s going to be the selfie stick. Selfies have completely overtaken the modern world, and the ability to extend the reach of an arm is just mind-blowing. Really limitless potential.


If you could sit down and have dinner with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I think I would sit down with M.C. Potter. This guy was the first to discover that bacteria could generate electricity in 1911. I really want to see the dumbfounded look on his face when I tell him about the cool stuff we are able to do with bioelectricity today.


What songs would you put on the soundtrack of your life?

Bad Day-Daniel Powter. “Sometimes the system goes on a blink, and the whole thing turns out wrong.” Describes perfectly what typical lab day sounds like.

In Motion-Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Sounds like something cool is happening.

I’ll Make a Man Out of You – Mulan. What I’m working towards every day.


Finally, what advice do you have for students at the Canada-Wide Science Fair this year, looking back on your past experiences?

I think the most important thing about research is to be patient, and the only way to be really patient is to have passion. Drawing on some of my own experiences, I’ve been working on MFCs for a few years now, but a lot of the work I did in the past did not pay off until much later. I was only able to keep working because I was really interested in MFC technology. So find something that really interests you, and don’t be afraid to keep going at it even when things don’t seem to be working in your favour.