Year 12 Student, Ben, has been announced as one of the winners of the prestigious Apple Swift Student Challenge 2022. Apple’s Swift Student Challenge is an annual global competition for high-school and university students, with winners receiving an exclusive one year of membership in the Apple Developer Program. The task was to produce an innovative, useful and technologically challenging interactive app with Apple’s programming language, Swift. Ben has now been successful in this global competition two years in a row!

Hear what Ben has to say about this incredible achievement;

I’ve enjoyed the freedom to create something that interested me rather than being confined to a narrow subject area.

For my winning entry, I created a system to automatically classify, and reason about, stellar spectra. Over the past academic year, I participated in the school’s “Cosmic Mining” research program, through which we learnt how to analyze the wavelengths of light emitted by a star in order to classify it. However, classification took a long time, and there was no easy way for us to check our work without classifying the star all over again. So, I decided to research strategies to automate the process. By using a combination of various pre-processing techniques and nine neural networks, I managed to create a system that could classify stars with superhuman performance, narrowly beating our own accuracy.

I built this into an app that taught users about stellar spectroscopy and the different types of star. Using an Apple Pencil, the user could draw an example spectrum and see it be classified in real-time, demonstrating the accuracy of the system across any number of inputs. By using technologies specific to iPad, I added animations, graphs and 3D models to truly bring the experience to life. It was tricky at times to pull all of these components together, but I am extremely happy with how the app turned out.

Both this year and the last, I have been fortunate enough to be selected as a winner of the competition. In “normal” years, this would result in tickets to Apple’s annual WWDC conference in Cupertino, California, but it has taken place virtually since COVID. Instead, Apple provides award winners with a hoodie and pin set exclusive to WWDC. Last year, I also got to present my app to Apple CEO Tim Cook over Zoom, which was a dream come true! During the conference, I loved learning more about the technologies that drive the digital experiences we rely on every day. It’s really motivating to see how new frameworks can be used to create even more powerful apps; I’ve come away wanting to build at least 10 different apps with ideas I picked up at the conference.

For anyone interested in programming, I could not recommend the competition more. It’s a great way to get started with coding or develop your skills, and it is a chance to explore the opportunities coding presents in a fun way. Apple has resources that make it easy to get started, and there’s a real sense of achievement when you first see your own app icon on your home screen.