A major global science competition asked students from around the world to create a short video that explains a science or mathematics concept to the public. Fort McMurray, Alberta resident Maryam Tsegaye took up the challenge and spent two weeks creating a three-minute video explaining quantum tunnelling, comparing the concept to rolling dice and playing video games, CBC reported.
At the end of the day, the 17-year-old Grade 12 student at École McTavish Public High School won the $400, 000 Breakthrough Junior Challenge for her explainer video, becoming the first Canadian to win the prize.
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global initiative to develop and demonstrate young people’s knowledge of science and scientific principles while generating excitement in these fields and supporting STEM carrier choices, it says in a news release.
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Tsegaye beat out over 5,600 other applicants from 124 countries. “I just had a lot of time over quarantine and I just decided to enter,” Tsegaye said. “In previous years, I always hesitated from entering because I was really intimidated by all the other competitors.”
Her prize included $250,000 that will go towards her schooling, a $100,000 science lab for her small high school, and $50,000 for her science teacher.
Tsegaye was surprised by the win. Usually, the winner is surprised at school with the announcement but due to coronavirus restrictions, Tsegaye’s principal, Scott Barr, had to think of a ruse to get her and a few friends into school. Barr told Tsegaye and some of her friends that he needed help with an educational video.
As they got seated in class, Barr asked them to watch a video on the board. Suddenly, astronaut Scott Kelly and Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, which is a partner in the prize, appeared on the screen. Tsegaye still had no idea what was going on until she heard her name and realized she had won the competition. “She was just shocked,” Barr said.
The teen, who has since received congratulatory messages from many including the Canadian president, Justin Trudeau, told CTV News Channel that she entered the competition because she is really into science and science communication. She said she picked quantum tunnelling because it is a quantum phenomenon that she had never heard of until she was researching for the competition.
“I was completely taken away with the whole topic and fell down a spiral of articles and everything,” said Tsegaye, adding that she tried to explain the concept “with video games and dice and things like that as an analogy,” and the judges were impressed.
According to her video, quantum tunnelling is the term used for when electrons moving in a wave can make it through a barrier instead of bouncing off. “So I was watching my brother play this video game and he used a cheat code that let his character do a walk-through-walls hack,” she says in the video. “He pushed himself against a barrier in the game, hit some buttons and boom, his character appeared on the other side.
“Imagine if you could walk through walls in real life — and it turns out you can, at a quantum level.”
With the prize, tuition is no longer a problem, Tsegaye said, adding that she hopes to study physics at a university abroad after graduation.