Canadian Teen Wins Prize for Brilliant Quantum Physics Video

She is the first Canadian to win, and the whole country is proud!

Dec 30, 2020


Canadian Teen Wins Prize for Brilliant Quantum Physics Video | She is the first Canadian to win, and the whole country is proud!

Maryam Tsegaye had the surprise of her life on December 3, 2020 when she learned she won a global science contest. The 17-year-old Canadian winner, from Fort McMurray, Alberta, is inspiring students around the world and is making her country very proud!

Some 5,600 students from 124 countries competed, according to the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. The contest requires an original three-minute video explaining a theory or an idea in physics, life sciences, or math. Breakthrough’s goal is to inspire teens aged 13 to 18 to think about science in creative ways and to create excitement about STEM careers.

There were 30 semi-finalists in this sixth annual challenge and the winner was announced online by Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy and a Breakthrough partner, along with one of the judges, retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

The moment felt like a regular day in science class for this Canadian teen, according to a Breakthrough news release. She was sitting with her classmates watching what she thought was a regular recorded interview between Khan and Kelly, until Kelly started addressing Maryam directly. Khan then announced her as the winner.

This magical moment was captured on the  emotional video released by the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. It shows Maryam’s shock and surprise, complete with joyful tears. “This is an absolutely life-changing moment and nothing’s going to be the same from now on,” she said in the video. 

Maryam’s winning video took a very complex theory of physics, quantum tunneling, and explained it in a brilliant, relatable, and humorous way. For example, she explains that on a quantum level, you can actually walk through walls; and as for subatomic particles, she engagingly describes them as having “split” personalities.

Maryam won a $250,000 scholarship, plus her school will get a state-of-the-art science lab valued at $100,000, according to the news release. There is also prize money of $50,000 for her science teacher, Katherine Vladicka-Davies, who encouraged Maryam to join the competition. Maryam is applying to universities for next year and hopes to study science communications and physics at an international university.

Sal Khan from Khan Academy said in the Breakthrough news release, “Science was at the forefront this year, and it’s important that the next generation of students understands its impact and significance in our world.”

From scientists to those who know little about subatomic particles or nuclear fusion, everyone is proud of Maryam. She has received congratulatory messages from teachers, students, families, friends, and politicians.“You’re making us all proud,” tweeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As the proud winner of this year’s Breakthrough Challenge, Maryam is an incredible role model to young students everywhere. She is laying the groundwork for other young students, especially girls, to follow in her footsteps.

After watching Maryam’s prize-winning video on physics, one appreciates the importance of making complex science available to all, and seeing how young minds can actually walk through walls.

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Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.