Teen Scientist Wins Global Prize for Simple Explainer of 'Quantum Tunneling'

A teen wunderkind won a major prize for her electric explainer video on quantum tunneling.
Brad Bergan

A teen wunderkind from Fort McMurray, Alberta in Canada won a major scientific competition for a gripping YouTube video explainer of a notoriously complex subject: quantum tunneling.


Teen scientist wins major prize for 'quantum tunneling' explainer

The 17-year-old — Maryam Tsegaye — is a student at École McTavish Public High School, and was awarded the top prize for the sixth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge for the YouTube explainer.

Tsegaye performed her electric explainer of quantum mechanics with an analogy between electrons and the way her brother often cheats on video games.

Quantum tunneling notoriously baffling

Quantum tunneling is a phenomenon in quantum mechanics where electrons can "tunnel" through barriers deemed impassible to objects under the theoretical lens of classical physics.

Niels Bohr once said about quantum theory: "those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it."

On the quantum level, entangled particles can interact at speeds faster than light — impossible in classical physics — enabling particles to exist in several places at once.

More specifically, quantum tunneling is when a wave function successfully propagates through a possible barrier to its trajectory — kind of like throwing a ball with every expectation of a bounce-back, and witnessing it disappear, moving through what appeared to be a solid barrier.

Teen compares quantum tunneling to brother's video game cheat codes

In Tsegaye analogy, her brother resorting to cheat codes in video games — which lets his character pass through in-game walls — is likened to quantum tunneling.

This is how things are in her casually-toned explainer, which uses animations featuring quick and quirky edits to effectively simplify and visualize the notoriously thick topic. 

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Teen wunderkind, her teacher, school to receive financial awards

Founder of the Khan Academy Sal Khan — along with NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and several other experts — judged Tsegaye's submission, for which she will receive the $250,000 college scholarship, Science Alert reports.

Additionally, her science teacher will receive $50,000, and another $100,000 will go toward a new science laboratory at her school. "Congratulations to Maryam [Tsegaye], who truly shines as an exemplary science communicator," said Co-Founder Julia Milner of Breakthrough Junior Challenge.

Quantum physics is a rapidly-expanding field involved in the most advanced levels of physics, quantum computing, data science, genetic research, and many other fields. As successive generations of scientists and engineers move on from colleges and universities into commercial and academic pursuits, people like Tsegaye will continue to find new ways to help the rest of us come to know the most baffling mysteries of the universe.

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