Sunset student creates 'Breakthrough' scientific video
Sunset High School senior Alexandra Erwin has two passions: science and film. In fact, she finds those two subjects so fascinating that she hopes to double-major in them in college, perhaps at Portland State University.
So when Erwin learned about the Breakthrough Junior Challenge — an international competition in which students were invited to submit short films that explained a complex scientific theory in an easily understandable way — she knew she had to compete in it.
"I love science, and how it can explain the world in ways that we can't really do normally," said Erwin, who made it to the final 30, and later the final 15 students, out of thousands of entries. "I got to create a little plotline of how it went, and combining that with science was awesome. And explaining it in a way that people could understand — it was awesome."
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is sponsored by prestigious partners like the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative and Khan Academy. The students who created the top 15 entries will advance to the final round.
Erwin's video explains Schrodinger's Cat and the "many worlds interpretation," a theory of quantum mechanics that posits that infinite alternative worlds or universes exist, with the worlds diverging each time a person makes a decision between multiple choices. She uses a broken phone analogy and stop-motion animation to explain the complex theories in an entertaining and relatable way.
"I chose that because it's always been super interesting to me, the idea of the many worlds interpretation," Erwin said. "The idea that there could be many universes where every decision you've made have separate branching-off areas. It's always been fascinating to me."
After submitting her video, Erwin said she had her doubts about whether she would advance past the first round.
"I immediately started putting myself against other people," she said. "I would watch my video, and then I would watch other people's videos, and it was like, 'wow, OK, these people are really good.'"
Still, she was proud of herself for submitting something at all — and even prouder when she got the email saying she'd advanced to the final 30.
"That was extremely surprising," Erwin said about receiving that email. "I immediately ran up to my mom and freaked out."
The winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge will be awarded a $250,000 college scholarship. The science teacher who inspired the winning student will win a $50,000 prize. The winner's school — Sunset High, in Erwin's case — will also receive a state-of-the-art science lab valued at $100,000.
But even if she doesn't win, Erwin has already gone further than she thought possible.
"I never knew that this kind of thing could happen to me," she said, "so having this happen has been a very humbling experience."