How do subatomic particles can breach barriers? Maryam Tsegaye has the answer.

Alberta teen wins international science video competition

Maryam Tsegaye won $400,000 in education prizes in the Breakthrough Prize Foundation’s sixth annual Junior Challenge.

What is quantum tunnelling? 

The creative answer to that question won an Alberta teen $400,000 in education prizes in an international science video competition.

Maryam Tsegaye, a 17-year-old from Fort McMurray, Alberta, won the Breakthrough Prize Foundation’s sixth annual Junior Challenge “designed to inspire creative thinking about fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics and mathematics.”

Tsegaye will receive a $250,000 university scholarship while her science teacher, Katherine Vladicka-Davies, who encouraged her interest in science and participation in the challenge, will be awarded $50,000. Tsegaye’s school, École McTavish Public High School, will receive a science lab valued at $100,000, designed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Maryam Tsegaye, a 17-year-old from Fort McMurray, Alberta, won the Breakthrough Prize Foundation’s sixth annual Junior Challenge “designed to inspire creative thinking about fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics and mathematics.”
Maryam Tsegaye, a 17-year-old from Fort McMurray, Alberta, won an international science video competition for her video on quantum tunnelling.

The 2020 prize-winning video uses animations, graphics and a humorous and conversational tone to show how subatomic particles can breach barriers, the same concept that enables the Sun to create vast amounts of energy through nuclear fusion.

“I wanted to make sure you didn’t feel patronized or lost, so I approached the viewer with a casual tone and avoided as much scientific jargon as possible,” said Tsegaye, who beat out 5,600 applicants from 124 countries. 

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global initiative aimed at showcasing young people’s knowledge of science, supporting STEM career choices and getting the general public excited about fundamental scientific concepts. Khan Academy and National Geographic Partners LLC are partners.

Tsegaye is planning to use the scholarship money towards a Bachelor of Science degree in physics (she chose astrophysics in one application) and then hopes to pursue graduate school and research, while staying involved with science communication.

“I hope that people can see from this video that science isn’t a dull and dry topic, but can be story-like: casual, surprising and maybe even full of suspense.”

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