by Heather Atkinson

On the bright side

As a boomer with a couple of teenage grandkids, I know that ageism works in both directions: You’re damned if you’re old; you’re damned if you’re young. The news is full of stories about wayward teens and boomers flagrantly ignoring the current social distancing rules.

Packing for the trip

But just as we boomers are not a homogeneous group, neither are teens. Think Greta Thunberg or my enterprising grandson, 17-year-old Austin Campbell, a recent graduate of Almonte District High School. Austin drove himself to Montreal last week to compete along with medical and engineering specialists from around the world in the Code Life Ventilator Challenge.

According to McGill’s Faculty of Medicine Newsletter, the Code Life Ventilator Challenge is a “2-week sprint” to collect the best ideas from anywhere in the world to create or design life-saving ventilators so essential during COVID-19. It’s a joint initiative between the Montreal General Hospital Foundation and the Research Institute of McGill University. The main specs for the winning ventilator design are that medical staff must be able to assemble it on the fly and it must be readily manufacturable. Austin brings with him several years of experience 3-D printing stuff in his bedroom-laboratory as well as experience designing robots for the Skills Canada annual competition.

For the past week in Montreal, Austin has enjoyed being one of two teens on an eight-member team that includes a medical doctor and a medical parts designer. Most competitors are in their mid-30s.

Austin messaged me to say that his team has just completed phase one of their prototype ventilator after a week of 18-hour working days. They are now waiting to hear if they can take their prototype into the second phase of the competition. Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome one of Austin’s teammates is confident that he can get their model into production. They may not get a thumbs-up from the judges, but I’m sending them a high-five!