Maryam Tsegaye Wins Breakthrough Junior Challenge With Incredible Quantum Tunneling Video

Maryam in a photoshoot with Breakthrough. Credit: Breakthrough

Science is often shaped by enthusiastic young people that want to make their mark. Maryam Tsegaye (age 17) certainly falls within this category, winning the annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge for her video of quantum tunneling.

Breaking down a complex quantum mechanics topic into a short video, Tsegaye explains how quantum tunneling affects the world as we know it.

Tsegaye's prize-winning video. Credit: Breakthrough

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global competition for students aged 13-18 years old to make a video less than 3 minutes long that “brings to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics.”

Tsegaye won a $250,000 college scholarship, $50,000 for her science teacher that inspired her love for physics, and a $100,000 laboratory for her high school.

“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 press release. “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.”

It's no easy feat to explain quantum tunneling, a phenomenon in which a particle can penetrate through an energy barrier so long as it is higher in energy than the particle’s own kinetic energy. Quite the mouthful. 

To drive home the topic, Tsegaye used clever animations and analogies of day-to-day life to explain complex subatomic particles and the states they exist in.

“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, in a statement.

“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.”

Congratulations to Tsegaye, her teacher, and her school for the impressive work.


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