Maryam Tsegaye: 1st Canadian Student to Win International Science Competition

Maryam Tsegaye, a Grade 12 student at École McTavish Public High School in Alberta, Canada, is the first Canadian to win the international Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Her three-minute video explaining quantum tunnelling won the lucrative prize. (CBC)


Alberta student 1st Canadian to win $500K Cdn international science competition

Maryam Tsegaye spent two weeks crafting her winning video on quantum tunnelling

A Fort McMurray, Alta., student is the first Canadian to win the $500,000 Cdn international Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a prize that includes a scholarship and new science lab for her school.

Maryam Tsegaye, a Grade 12 student at École McTavish Public High School, entered the competition with a three-minute video explaining quantum tunnelling.

The competition asks students from around the world to create a video that explains a scientific principle to the public.

The 17-year-old spent two weeks creating her video, comparing quantum tunnelling to rolling dice and playing video games.

“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.”

About 5,600 students entered the competition.

WATCH | Take a look at Maryam Tsegaye’s entry here:

The prize is a $250,000 US scholarship, $100,000 toward a science lab for her high school and $50,000 cash for the teacher who inspired her. The money amounts to about $500,000 Cdn.

The big prize came with a big reveal.

Typically, the student would be surprised at school with the prize announcement, but recent COVID-19 restrictions moved Tsegaye’s classes online.

So her principal, Scott Barr, got creative.

“We kind of made up a bit of a ruse for her and a few friends to get into school,” Barr said.

He asked Tsegaye to come in to help with an educational video. She and her friends were told to sit in a classroom and watch a video on the board.

Barr told them to look interested and act like they were learning from home.

“I did a lot of lying leading up to this,” he said. “But it was all for a good reason.”

School principal planned big reveal

Then a video of astronaut Scott Kelly and Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy — which is one of the partners in the prize — appeared on the screen.

“She still had no idea,” Barr said. “Even when they started talking about the contest.”

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