Palash Taneja, 19, grew up in New Delhi, India. Four years ago, he contracted a severe case of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus that left him hospitalized.
“That whole experience of two to three months of suffering — I think that really inspired me to learn programming and to use it as a problem-solving tool,” says Taneja, who just finished his freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin.
He went on to create a web-based tool that uses machine learning to predict how mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever would spread. And for his Swift Student Challenge submission this year, created against the backdrop of COVID-19, Taneja designed a Swift playground that teaches coding while simulating how a pandemic moves through a population, showing how precautions such as social distancing and masks can help slow infection rates. He created it to help educate young people, after he saw others not taking warnings seriously.
Taneja is also passionate about education. In India, while still a teenager himself, he volunteered teaching English and math at a school for students whose families couldn’t afford to pay tuition. Before he left for college in the US, he created a program that translates popular online education videos into roughly 40 languages, so that children who don’t have physical access to quality education can learn on the web.
“I really enjoy working with children, and I think education is one of the things that can create the biggest impact in someone’s life,” says Taneja, “especially someone in a developing country.”
Devin Green loves solving problems with technology and looks to his surroundings for inspiration. While finishing his senior year of high school at home due to COVID-19, he used his bedroom in Castro Valley, California, as a laboratory.
The 18-year-old, who will start his freshman year at Stanford in the fall, was having trouble waking up in the mornings, so he designed a program using a pressure mat under his bed. If weight is still on the mat after he’s supposed to be up, an alarm goes off and won’t stop until he uses his phone to scan a QR code.
“There are 12 different QR codes around my house, and it’s randomized every morning,” says Green. “So I never know exactly where I have to go to shut the alarm off.”
This same spirit of innovation permeates everything that Green creates. His winning Swift Student Challenge playground features an artificial-intelligence robot named Stanny that can recognize and respond to 63 different comments and questions.
Green also has two apps on the App Store, the first of which he built when he was 13. The second, called Slight Work, is a homework app that uses the Pomodoro Technique to maximize work time with structured breaks. He and his high-school classmates used it throughout their senior year, as did friends in college.
When Green thinks about the future, he hopes to use his problem-solving skills to effect change on a much larger scale.
“Social justice and politics are areas I really want to contribute to,” says Green. “Giving people access to the materials they need to stay educated about current social matters or access to voter registration or basic citizenship rights — solving those problems is really important to me.”