This 17 Year Old Just Won $400K For Explaining Quantum Tunneling In Breakthrough Science Challenge

By Duchess Magazine

Teen scientist Maryam Tsegaye from Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada is making massive headlines after winning the grand prize of a staggering $400,000 for explaining quantum tunneling in the annual highly anticipated Breakthrough Junior Science Challenge, AJ+ reports

The annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge sees students aged 13-18, sharing innovative videos demystifying complex science or math principles to win prize money for themselves and their school.

Maryam Tsegaye, a student at École McTavish Public High School was awarded the top prize for the sixth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge.


This year, students were expected to create a short video explaining a complex idea in one of four fields: physics, mathematics, life sciences, or COVID-19. Films had to be 3 minutes or less and were judged in 4 categories, engagement, illumination, creativity and difficulty, Because of Them We Can reports.

Maryam chose quantum tunneling as her topic, “a complex principle [that explains] when a particle can go through a potential energy barrier.”

Inspired while watching her brother play video games where he walked through walls, Tsegaye decided to explain the concept in the simplest way possible.

“Imagine if you could walk through walls in real life. And it turns out you can – at a quantum level. We’re talking on the scale of the stuff that make up atoms. Ok, so little elementary particles can ‘walk through walls.’ But I can’t because my body is made up of more than a quadrillion of these quantum objects. And the odds of all of them tunneling through the wall is practically impossible,” she explained in her video.

Explianing, she said it was quantum tunneling that allows for nuclear fusion, which is how the sun can release so much energy, thus powering life on earth. Quantum tunneling is also the way the body’s DNA mutates, which means…” Quantum tunneling is the reason we’re alive,” Maryam said.

She won hearts with her simple yet exciting video which fetched her the grand prize, making her the Breakthrough Junior Challenge winner. An overwhelmed Tsegaye was surprised at school via Zoom by the founder of Khan Academy Sal Khan and astronaut Scott Kelly. They announced Maryam as the winner and ran down a list of prizes, including a $250,000 scholarship, $100,000 for her school’s science lab and $50,000 for her teacher.

An excited Maryam rushed down the hall to break the news to her father. The two immediately embraced and took in the moment together.

“A very happy moment for me. I would say, the door is wide open now. I mean, she can go anywhere,” her father says in the video.

Maryam competed against 5,600 students worldwide to win the Breakthrough Junior Challenge and hopes that her victory will inspire other Black girls to get interested in STEM and take on leadership roles.

“This is an absolutely life-changing moment. It’s not just me winning right now. It’s my school; it’s my teachers, my family. The city and even the country,” said Maryam.

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