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Living the Big Bang Theory

Kylie Parent of Pitt Meadows secondary spent part of her summer studying theoretical physics at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont. - Contributed
Kylie Parent of Pitt Meadows secondary spent part of her summer studying theoretical physics at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont.
— image credit: Contributed

Pitt Meadows secondary science wiz Kylie Parent spent two weeks of her summer living the Big Bang Theory – both as the title applies to the theory of how the universe was born, and to the popular sitcom.

Parent was one of 40 successful applicants from across the globe who applied to attend a two-week summer program for high school students at a theoretical physics school in Waterloo, Ont.

It was physics summer camp.

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is the world’s largest independent institute of its kind. Every year, the PI runs the International Summer School for Young Physicists, aimed at students with an interest in physics, and who are going to study it at the post secondary level.

This year, it was attended by students from the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Greece, Israel, England, Poland, Australia, Singapore and Pitt Meadows.

“Could Kylie Parent of Pitt Meadows be the next Einstein? She’s on the right path,” said a press release from the institute.

Parent certainly shows some impressive academic aptitude, with marks of 100 per cent in physics, 98 per cent in math and all of her grades over 90 per cent.

She learned about the institute, and with her interested in physics already sparked at Pitt Meadows secondary, she decided to apply. Of the 400 applications, she was accepted.

“The students chosen are traditionally more than just the top science students in their class - they have shown a drive for learning above and beyond the traditional physics classroom,” said Perimeter Institute spokesman Eamon O’Flynn.

Despite the fact that her friends dismissed two weeks at the prestigious International Summer School for Young Physicists as “Nerd camp,” off she went.

Parent said the institute professors, with 40 extremely capable students and one subject to focus on, were able to cover light years of physics in two relatively short weeks. They tried university level concepts, including special relatively and quantum mechanics.

She found it fascinating.

“I really didn’t know what it was going to be like,” she admitted. “But even if you were just a little interested in physics, it would expand your knowledge and pique your interest.”

One of the highlights was the opportunity to visit Snolab, a physics lab in Sudbury that is 2 km underground. Scientists there search for dark matter – and probably a Nobel Prize if they find what they’re looking for. They limit visits by groups to just three per year. The summer school kids rode an elevator that descended at an ear-popping rate of 640 metres per minute. The scientists’ search is deep under the surface of the earth to help screen out other particles that barrage the planet from space, Parent learned. She found it an impressive facility. At one time Snolab, in Vale’s Creighton Nickel Mine, was the deepest lab in the world. Now China’s Jinping Underground Laboratory is deeper.

Her trip wasn’t all neutrinos, singularities and class time.

“I got to meet some people from all over the world with a common interest,” she said.

The school takes about half Canadians and the rest international students. Many of the young scholars are bound for Harvard and other prestigious universities, but they were also just kids who enjoyed throwing a frisbee or shooting hoops after classes.

The institute has its claims to fame.

“We count a number of very high profile physicists as Distinguished Visiting Research Chairs, including Stephen Hawking, S. James Gates Jr., and Leonard Susskind,” said O’Flynn. “PI is also known for its highly sought-after research training programs, such as the Perimeter Scholars International graduate program, and our award-winning outreach program, which includes monthly public lectures that always sell out and physics-themed events that attract crowds in the tens of thousands.”

For Parent, it was an opportunity to see whether the field is an area she would like to study throughout university. She’s not sure that theoretical physics would be a gratifying career for her.

“You could spend your whole life working on a theory, only to see it refuted.”

Parent said she plans to study physics for her undergraduate degree, then attend medical school with the goal of becoming a pediatrician.

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