17-year-old Wins $400K For Explaining Quantum Tunneling in Science Competition

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation has formally announced 17-year-old Maryam Tsegaye has won the sixth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge science competition.

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global science competition that was created to inspire creative thinking about fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics and mathematics. With the recent coronavirus gripping the world, this was the first time there was a new category on the science of pandemics.

“Winning the Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a life-changing moment for me, and presents so many new opportunities that nothing will be the same from now on,” Tsegaye said in a written statement. “I am so humbled to be a part of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge community, and to win this for my school, my teachers, my family, the city, and the country.”

In the video below, Tsegaye explains the concept of quantum tunneling.

Tsegaye has won a total of $400,000 in educational prizes for not only herself but her teacher and her school as well. She will receive a $250,000 college scholarship while her science teacher Katherine Vladicka-Davies, takes home a $50,000 prize. The high school she attends, École McTavish Public High School, will receive a state-of-the-art science lab valued at $100,000 designed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“Congratulations to Maryam, who truly shines as an exemplary science communicator,” said Julia Milner, co-founder of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. “Maryam created a unique, one-of-a-kind video that explained a complicated scientific theory using relatable terms and humor—an impressive feat.”

“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,” said Sal Khan. “Maryam and all of the impressive finalists demonstrated a keen appreciation for science. Khan Academy is proud to partner with the Challenge to expand minds all over the world with deep ideas in science and math.”

“Through the years, I’ve been inspired by the high quality of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge videos, and this year was no exception,” said Scott Kelly, retired NASA astronaut and Breakthrough Junior Challenge judge. “Maryam’s video is a prime example of how to cleverly simplify a complex idea, and she provided a remarkable explanation of quantum tunneling. Congratulations to Maryam, her teacher, her school, and all the students who will benefit from the new lab.”

Since 2015, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has reached 202 countries. The year’s installment attracted more than 5,600 applicants from 124 countries.