Top Prospects: Leading innovators from the Class of 2018

First row, left to right: Megnath Ramesh (Jordan Mathieson), Retsepile Sello (Clare Kiernan), Noah Debrincat, Daniel Dixon (Tifa Huang) Second row: Aidan Gomez (Vivienne Jaehn-Kreibaum), Onyinye Ofulue (Clare Kiernan), Chase Pelletier (Infiniti) Third row: Paul Albert-Lebrun, Vanessa Raponi (Jin Lee), Rachel Chase (Simon Fraser University)
First row, left to right: Megnath Ramesh (Jordan Mathieson), Retsepile Sello (Clare Kiernan), Noah Debrincat, Daniel Dixon (Tifa Huang) Second row: Aidan Gomez (Vivienne Jaehn-Kreibaum), Onyinye Ofulue (Clare Kiernan), Chase Pelletier (Infiniti) Third row: Paul Albert-Lebrun, Vanessa Raponi (Jin Lee), Rachel Chase (Simon Fraser University) Illustration by Hanna Lee

As a publication exploring the future of Canadian innovation, we sought out some of the rising stars poised to lead the way in shaping the country’s future. We asked some of Canada’s leading engineering and computer science universities, based on recent rankings, to share with us their top prospects who are building the future of tech in areas as diverse as space travel, medicine and the ethics of artificial intelligence.

In alphabetical order, meet 10 of Canada’s leading innovators from the Class of 2018.

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Paul Albert-Lebrun

  • School: McGill University
  • Program: Electrical engineering
  • Employment status: Drafted by the University of Toronto

Albert-Lebrun founded the McGill Space Group (MSG), the school’s first space research group, in his fourth year of school. The MSG co-organized Montreal’s first space symposium, a two-day event that featured 47 speakers and over 500 attendees. This September, Albert-Lebrun will begin his master’s in aerospace science and engineering at the University of Toronto. Afterward, he wants to work in asteroid mining, a niche industry that he predicts will become important in the next decade. Most asteroids contain water molecules that can fuel future deep space missions; as such, they could create mini space stations for spacecraft—potentially changing the future of space travel.

Rachel Chase

  • School: Simon Fraser University
  • Program: Information systems, finance, and entrepreneurship & innovations
  • Employment status: Entrepreneur

Chase co-founded Zennea Technologies, a Surrey, B.C.-based startup that is developing ZENS, a wearable sleep device to monitor and treat chronic snorers who aren’t necessarily diagnosed with sleep apnea. Originally a class project, the team was eventually accepted into HAX, a hardware-specific accelerator based in Shenzhen, China and in San Francisco. Working out of Shenzhen, they’ve already created their beta prototype, filed a provisional patent and are working with the FDA to classify their device and start testing. The device is expected to be ready for market by late 2020.

Noah Debrincat

  • School: University of Waterloo
  • Program: Nanotechnology engineering
  • Employment status: Entrepreneur

Debrincat and two fellow nanotech students started working on a marijuana breathalyzer for a design project in their fourth year of school. That project evolved into the creation of their company, SannTek. Currently, cannabis use can only be detected by blood or by oral fluids—two methods that can be invasive and inaccurate, creating a problem for law enforcement as marijuana legalization nears. Debrincat says SannTek’s nanotech sensor is more sensitive and affordable than similar products currently in development, and can potentially be used to detect other drugs. The team is currently developing a prototype, getting design input directly from police to fit the future needs of law enforcement nationwide.

Daniel Dixon

  • School: Simon Fraser University
  • Program: Computer engineering
  • Employment status: Drafted by Apple Inc.

Dixon stayed in school longer than his peers in order to take a one-year co-op placement at Tesla. That decision gave him enough technical experience to land a job at Apple immediately after graduating. The 23-year-old will be a haptics firmware QA engineer, where he’ll be part of the team that validates the vibration functionality of products including iPhones, Apple Watches and Macs.

Aidan Gomez

  • School: University of Toronto
  • Program: Math and computer science
  • Employment status: Drafted by the University of Oxford

Gomez took a semester off from his studies at U of T to work at Google Brain in Silicon Valley, where he co-authored a paper on machine learning with Lukasz Kaiser, a senior Google researcher. In the fall, he’s heading to the University of Oxford to begin his Ph.D in computer science. He wants to assist with Oxford’s renowned research in AI ethics and build systems that avoid human biases.

Onyinye Ofulue

  • School: University of British Columbia
  • Program: Chemical and biological engineering
  • Employment status: Undrafted

Ofulue led the UBC chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). Under her direction, the student team continued their work collecting waste cooking oil from UBC Food Services and converting it to biodiesel, an eco-friendly alternative to pure diesel. Ofulue hopes to support UBC ESW after graduation and is looking for work with firms who share her passion for sustainability.

Chase Pelletier

  • School: University of Ontario Institute of Technology
  • Program: Automotive engineering
  • Employment status: Drafted by Renault Sport Formula One

This past June, Pelletier was named the Infiniti Engineering Academy’s 2018 Canadian winner. Created by the eponymous vehicle company, the academy seeks to give opportunity to the best in the field of engineering. Pelletier competed with 10 other student finalists in challenges like constructing remote-control vehicles from scratch. Starting in January 2019, the 22-year-old will intern on a 12-month placement with both the Renault Sport Formula One Team and Infiniti Global in the U.K.. What he’ll be doing is confidential—motor racing engineering projects are famously secretive due to the competitiveness of the sport. Pelletier hopes the position can help him with his dream of becoming a lead race engineer at Formula One.

Megnath Ramesh

  • School: University of Alberta
  • Program: Electrical engineering
  • Employment status: Drafted by Scope AR

Five years ago, Ramesh moved to Edmonton from Chennai, India to study electrical engineering. Being an international student made him hesitant to try new things—until a series of opportunities culminated in him leading a student team to victory in this year’s SF Hacks. In 24 hours, the team created a security robot named Paul-E Blart that automates personal security, using image recognition software to identify intruders. Ramesh is now working at Scope AR, an augmented reality company, as a unity developer. Using augmented reality to overlay work instructions on real equipment, firms can identify problems without having to be on-site.

Vanessa Raponi

  • School: McMaster University
  • Program: Materials engineering and management
  • Employment status: Drafted by Spin Master Corp.

Raponi has spearheaded representation in the engineering sphere as founder and president of EngiQueers Canada, a non-profit calling for LGBTQ+ inclusion in Canadian engineering schools. What started as a McMaster-based student group now has 31 chapters in nine provinces. In July, Raponi will begin an engineering position at Spin Master, a Toronto-based toy maker. She’s also continuing her work with EngiQueers as national councillor—helping the group transition into the future—and as a member of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers’ diversity committee.

Retsepile Sello

  • School: University of British Columbia
  • Program: Mining engineering
  • Employment status: Undrafted

While in school, Sello completed two mining internships in South Africa, created a program designed to minimize fatal underground mining accidents and co-founded a high school mentorship program to encourage women to pursue STEM careers. After graduating this November, she hopes to continue working in the underground mining industry with a focus on  improving worker safety. In the long term, she wants to help create policies to support sustainable mining in developing countries, and to increase female participation in STEM.