Canada May 31, 2017

Apple takes a shine to teen’s tech project

By Evan Boudreau

Jaden Banson, a Grade 11 student at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary in Mississauga, has been invited to Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference in California to present his 3-D Molecular Visualizer program. (Photo courtesy Jaden Banson)

Boredom gave birth to the Visualizer

MISSISSAUGA—What started out as Jaden Banson’s annoying hobby has evolved into a passion that’s catching the eye of Apple Inc.

“When I was younger I used to take small things around the house apart,” said Banson, a Grade 11 student at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont.

“I used to take apart, like, TV remotes or my little RC cars to see what was inside because I always wondered how things worked. My mom would sometimes get angry at me for it, but my dad is an engineer so he was always fine with it.”

That boyish enthusiasm for gadgets has advanced to the point where the 17-year-old is creating entirely new projects of his own, and one of them has caught the attention of the world’s largest information technology company.

Apple has invited Banson to take part in the annual World Developers Conference, June 5-9 in San Jose, Calif. He’s one of 350 students from around the world who earned an invitation after suitably impressing the tech giant with his program that was selected from more than 10,000 projects.

The program, called the 3D Molecular Visualizer, provides a three-dimensional rendering of specific molecules, with each image accompanied by a description, list of properties and chemical details such as bonding relations with other molecules. The program, still in the demo stage, contains five molecules: water, carbon dioxide, sulphur trifluoride, sulphur tetrafluoride, and boron trichloride.

Banson said it could eventually serve as a supplement, or even replacement, to traditional chemistry textbooks.

“If I were to make it quite a bit larger it would be an alternate solution to a textbook,” he said, adding that a search engine would also have to be developed.

“I hope to speak to some of the really talented engineers at Apple and see how they create their software. Maybe they can take a look at it and give me some advice on how to properly structure my program for handling more data, different molecules, or building a search engine because there are some really really brilliant people at Apple.”

Banson also said the program could be used to create sister software for areas such as physics and biology.

“(Textbooks) do not accurately represent the way something might actually scientifically look and it doesn’t give the proper perspective of how it should look so students might find that confusing and might become uninterested,” he said. “It is just kind of boring compared to seeing something on a screen and getting to have that perspective of how things really look like.”

In fact, it was boredom that gave birth to the Visualizer.

“I was in chemistry class and I was studying for this test on molecules and as I was looking at the book some of the 2D molecules were kind of overly complicated,” he said. “That made the textbook really boring and un-engaging. So I said there just has to be an easier way and instead of waiting around for someone to make it why don’t I just make it.”

This is Banson’s second year applying to the Apple-sponsored convention for a coveted scholarship, which pays for his transportation, hotel and conference fee.

“Last year I applied with a different project but I wasn’t very familiar with the language so it wasn’t a very good project,” he said. “I was disappointed at first but I took it as a lesson and learned a lot.”

St. Joan of Arc principal Carl Cini had praise for both Banson and his teachers.

“We are very proud of this young man and want to congratulate him on all his hard work,” said Cini. “We have some incredible dedicated and energetic and enthusiastic teachers that push the envelope with the students and get them to think about technology in different ways.”

The Apple conference is a magnet for software developers, as well as a chance to meet with the company’s engineers and preview the latest technologies.

“Ever since I was in elementary school I had an iPod and I would just look at how clean it is yet how functional it was at the same time,” he said. “When I look at Apple as a company I think they do a lot of great stuff and they are always trying to look for new innovative solutions.”