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Woodbridge student shortlisted for Breakthrough Junior Challenge prize scholarship

Tasked with creating a video explaining complex scientific ideas in an imaginative way, Davina Potkidis, 17, explains what gravitational waves are and what happens when they hit the earth.
Nov. 4, 2016
By Alicja Siekierska

When Davina Potkidis first learned about the complicated world of gravitational waves, super novae and destructive interference, she read about it in another language.

The 17-year-old from Woodbridge, Ont. was taking an online French course in her spare time in 2015. One of her assignments included reading an essay about gravitational waves and Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“It was a little bit difficult to understand, but I was still really interested in it,” Potkidis said.

A year later, when Potkidis discovered the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a scholarship competition for students around the world asking them to bring to life a concept in science or math, she immediately knew what to focus on.

The contest is organized by the Breakthrough Prize foundation, started by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and others.

Students were asked to create an original video explaining complex scientific ideas in an imaginative way.

The winner will receive a $250,000 post-secondary scholarship, plus an additional $50,000 for the student’s science teacher and a state-of-the-art science lab, valued at $100,000, for the school.

In her video, Potkidis, wearing a black t-shirt with the word “science” across the front, deftly explains what gravitational waves are and what happens when they hit the earth.

Using an array of visuals, and a touch of humour, she casually explains the concept first predicted by Einstein.

Potkidis spent three weeks studying gravitational waves, writing a script and shooting and editing the video, a challenge, given how many other activities the teenager has on the go. She teaches piano lessons to young children, plays several instruments and soccer, figure skates with the Woodbridge Skating Club, is on her school’s student council, all while maintaining a 96-per-cent average.

Despite her impressive resume, Potkidis didn’t expect to be one of the students selected from a pool of more than 6,000 entries.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I honestly didn’t think I would make it to the next round, let alone in the top 30.”

The teen hopes she’ll get the votes to win the scholarship.

The public can vote for their favourite video online until Nov. 9.

Potkidis plans on going to university next year and studying biophysics or biomedical engineering. She’s considering going to medical school so she can become a radiologist or pathologist.

Even if she doesn’t win, she’s enjoyed the experience.

“Making the video, learning about everything and putting it all together was the best part,” she said. “I really liked seeing the idea in my head come to life.”