July 8, 2020

STEM contest inspires future engineers

Virtual STEM Challenge fosters creative solutions from young minds
Collage of finalists
Collage of finalists Spartan

They were there to see tigers and giraffes, but young brothers Kaiden and Caleb Manji instead found themselves focusing on some very curious human behaviour at the Calgary Zoo.

As the boys strolled around the exhibits on St. George’s Island, they noticed that many other zoo visitors were doing the key thing they’d been told people should never do during the COVID-19 pandemic, and not staying far enough apart.

“We got this idea because at the zoo, people weren’t social distancing,” explains Kaiden.

Inspiration to invent

And like many an inventor before them, that bit of inspiration was all the brothers needed – and from there, the BeepBand was born.

A bracelet with a purpose, the BeepBand lives up to its name. Whenever another BeepBand wearer wanders too close for COVID comfort, it issues a warning beep to indicate the two-metre social distancing protocol is being broken.

“It’s fun to wear the wristband because it is cool tech,” says Caleb.

Top prize at National Virtual STEM Challenge

Cool enough to win the pair a top prize in Emerson and Spartan Controls’ inaugural National Virtual STEM Challenge, a light-hearted invention contest designed to foster creativity and ingenuity in children currently learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event, which culminated in an online video presentation before a panel of judges, took place over several weeks and featured submissions from nearly 30 applicants, ranging from six to 17 years of age.

Brilliant ideas from active minds

Mentored by students at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering, final entries included the BeepBand, a solar oven, an anti-face touching alert system, a bicycle safety proximity sensor and a voice-activated elevator control panel.

Great ideas, all aimed at getting young minds moving.

“We recognize many families are adjusting to at-home learning right now, and we wanted to do our part to help keep children actively engaged with STEM-related topics,” said Ryan Garrah, president of Emerson Canada.

“Through the virtual competition, we encouraged kids of all ages to tap into their critical thinking skills and use their imagination to solve something meaningful to them, all while staying safe in their homes.”

A future in STEM

As part of Emerson’s “We Love STEM” campaign – a longstanding initiative to inspire young people to pursue opportunities in STEM – participants were tasked with developing thoughtful solutions under one of two project themes: Automate & Transform and Conquer COVID-19.

Judges included Garrah, 11-year-old inventor and StartUpBySophia.com founder Sophia Fairweather; Grant Wilde, president and CEO of Spartan Controls; and Dr. Bill Rosehart, PhD, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering.

Wilde praised UCalgary’s student engineers, who acted as mentors, providing support and feedback as applicants built their submissions.

“The students at Schulich were incredibly eager to lend their leadership and expertise to mentor the children as they developed their ideas,” Wilde said. “As young visionaries themselves, I believe they saw the project as a great way to give back to the next generation of innovators, in addition to highlighting the many opportunities made possible through STEM.”


Winners included:

First Place (Age 6-9)

Kaiden and Caleb Manji, Calgary



Second Place (Age 6-9)

Katelyn James, Calgary

How to Make Handwashing Fun


Third Place (Age 6-9)

Aarav Pandhare, Calgary

Solar Cooker


First Place (Age 10-17)

Avani and Rheeya Sidhu, Calgary

Bicycle Sensor


Second Place (Age 10-17)

Sara, Emma and Jacob Durant, Calgary

Fruit Washer


Third Place (Age 10-17)

Prateek Shreyas, Calgary

Sterilizing N95 Masks with Electrolysis