UW’s youngest student blends calculus and community in new book


Osher Ahn-Clifford, a 10-year-old first-year computer science student, hopes his new book The Quest for the Integral will show youth that their ideas matter too, and help us all learn a thing or two about calculus along the way. 

The book, a children’s book blending adventure and calculus, is the product of a team-up between Ahn-Clifford and Smart Waterloo Region Innovation Lab (SWRIL), a Waterloo-based lab which hopes to make Waterloo “the best community for children and youth.” It is expected to be published sometime this month and will be available for purchase from SWRIL’s website.

Ahn-Clifford explained via email how he came to UW at such a young age. At the beginning of the pandemic, he began homeschooling, which gave him time to learn at his own pace. Math and coding were always favourite subjects, and after completing high school math, university-level math felt like a natural next step. Ahn-Clifford took several UW math courses in 2022 before becoming a full-time student in fall 2023.

His interest in coding stems from an introductory Python course which he took at the age of seven. “I like problem solving and building things, and coding lets me do both. I want to learn as much as I can and find ways to make the world a better place through technology,” he wrote.

At SWRIL, he worked closely with Saba Oji, SWRIL’s knowledge and data lead. The organization’s projects include Community Canvas, a non-profit project that displays public art co-created with youth artists, and GIMI Impact, which gives youth the opportunity to pitch solutions for community problems that will then be funded by SWRIL. Oji’s team helps create visualization tools for those who provide services targeting youth to aid in determining where best to invest in youth. 

Oji explained that through a brainstorming session with Ahn-Clifford, where Ahn-Clifford expressed that he “really love[s] calculus, and he really cares about his family and friends, and he wishes he could teach calculus to his peers,” the team decided on the idea of a children’s book about calculus.

Ahn-Clifford explained that he loves calculus because the ideas in it feel similar to puzzles, which he enjoys solving. He hopes to share these ideas in an easily understandable way to try and get more people excited about calculus. Though the genre aims to reach children that might not otherwise come across the topic, he doesn’t want to limit its reach to this age group. 

“I don’t think of it as a children’s book. It’s for anyone who thinks calculus is interesting and wants to learn more about it,” he said.

Oji said that the book was created with the help of ChatGPT to materialize the math-related storyline. “I don’t know calculus, and we are a small team, we don’t have a lot of resources to put on this side project,” she said, explaining that the team would verify the math with Osher to ensure it was correct, as well as to ensure that his ideas shined through. 

To create the visuals of the story, Ahn-Clifford helped look for and test platforms that would help the team achieve a “cute” but “semi-realistic” appearance for the book’s characters, eventually settling on Midjourney.

He thanked the SWRIL team’s openness to the idea of him volunteering, stating, “This made me feel valued and welcome[d] and I wanted to show them how much this opportunity meant to me by trying my best to participate and create something cool.”

Osher’s mother, Lori Ahn-Clifford, expressed how grateful she and Osher were for the opportunity SWRIL provided, particularly given the difficulty they encountered in finding an organization that would allow him to volunteer given his young age. Concerns around legality and skepticism about Osher’s ability to contribute made for several rejections from other organizations, but “[SWRIL was] immediately welcoming,” she said, explaining how Osher simply hopes to apply his skills and have fun while doing it. 

“It was just so awesome, and look what came out of it! I really wish that other organizations would be … a little bit more open-minded and willing to give young people a chance to show how they can contribute, because they can contribute,” she said.

Ahn-Clifford reflected on his experience as a positive one, with hopes it will encourage other youth to create their own projects as well. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done together. I really hope [the book] helps calculus reach other people and helps them understand some of the basic principles.”