A question of physics

Maple Ridge secondary student Eugenia Khramtsova will spend eight days in August at a quantum physics camp at the University of Waterloo.

Eugenia Khramtsova is off to Quantum Cryptography School at the University of Waterloo this summer.

When an argument breaks out in the Khramtsova household, it is not about the usual mundane drama.

The fact that sometimes rain drops fall faster than the speed of light can send Eugenia Khramtsova and her mother into a full-on feud.

Rain drops can fall up to 10 times faster than the speed of light, a fact based on a simple principle of quantum physics, Eugenia said.

But her mom would beg to differ.

“Mom likes to disagree with quantum physics,” Eugenia explains with a smile.

She will be heading to the Quantum Cryptography School for Young Students in Grades 11 to 12 at the University of Waterloo this summer.

Not only is she one of the youngest to be accepted into the summer program, as she is only in Grade 10, but is just one of 42 students accepted out of 5,000 applicants from around the world.

She will spend eight days in August attending lectures, doing hands-on experiments and group work, which will focus on quantum cryptography, a field that uses quantum mechanics to develop unbreakable encryption to protect communication.

Eugenia comes from a family with a history in the sciences. Her mom used to be a nuclear scientist and her dad a physicist, both schooled in classical physics.

As the self-described black sheep of the family, Eugenia only recently realized she was more interested in quantum physics.

“It’s a very different way of thinking,” explained the Maple Ridge secondary student.

“Classical physics, everything is set. You know, all the rules have been made. Everything works this way. There’s this formula to find out this. There’s no to it, ‘might be here or there.’ It’s like, ‘It will definitely be here or it will definitely be there.’ There’s no in between,” Eugenia added.

“With quantum physics, it could be here, it could be there, it could be neither. It could be behind me, it could be, like, three kilometres away. I don’t know. It’s much more entertaining than classical physics,” she continued.

Eugenia has also written an introductory paper to quantum physics for beginners, which was approved by two professors at Simon Fraser University.

What she really likes about the University of Waterloo camp is that participants are treated like university students.

Since she is still in high school, Eugenia does all her learning from books or online resources. But she would much prefer to learn from teachers in person, rather than trying to decipher pages of words, Greek symbols, letters and italics.

“I remember once opening a mid-level quantum physics book. I was at UBC and I just opened it up and the first thought that came to mind was, ‘Great, it’s written in ring-dings. Perfect,’” she said.

Quantum physics challenges a lot of people, but for Eugenia, it comes effortlessly.

“For me, it’s really simple to think that atoms go from point A to point B in every single way possible at the same time. That’s definitely what they do. It’s just easy for me to think that way,” she said.

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