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ISSYP: A Decade of Inspiration

Happy Birthday, ISSYP! Perimeter’s theoretical physics summer camp for high school students turned 10 this year.

ISSYP – which is short for the International Summer School for Young Physicists – has now taught 11 batches of students, and has 530 alumni from 43 countries.

Every year, half of the campers come from Canada, and half from elsewhere. Half are boys and half are girls. The ISSYP experience includes lectures, hands-on research, visits to physics laboratories, and plenty of opportunities to meet and learn from real scientists. It’s considered one of the world’s best physics camps for youth.

The camp is meant to teach students about the most fascinating discoveries of modern physics – “Stephen Hawking, extra dimensions, time travel, quantum teleportation, all the cool stuff that rests on Einstein’s ideas and quantum mechanics,” says Richard Epp, the scientist and outreach specialist who designed ISSYP.

“Training students in physics is a goal of the program, but not the primary goal,” says Epp. “What we really want to do is inspire, inspire, inspire. These kids come in with a lot of talent and maybe a little spark of love for physics. We fan that into a roaring fire, and show them how powerful and important physics discoveries are to the world.”

That fire is definitely roaring. In a survey, more than 70 percent of alumni credited ISSYP with launching their careers in math, science, or engineering.

ISSYPers have gone on to study at Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Caltech, Princeton, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, and practically every major Canadian university. They’ve interned at NASA, Fermilab, TRIUMF, SNOLAB, and CERN. They’ve gotten doctorates and founded companies.

Marija Stanojevic started a science festival in her hometown, which has since had more than 20,000 visitors. Ryan Wagner studied nanotechonology at the University of Waterloo and helped patent a nanotech cancer treatment. Cyndia Yu is a Harvard physics student who works on characterizing the optical properties of telescope parts for the Keck Array and the BICEP observatory.

Such success stories are perhaps not surprising, since the camp draws the best and brightest. But ISSYP was founded on the idea that being the best and brightest is not always enough.

“When I was touring high schools with Perimeter’s physics roadshow, I noticed something,” recalls Epp. “Many of the most gifted students, those with the potential to be future Newtons or Einsteins, were withdrawn. They didn’t want to stand out from their peers, for their intelligence or anything else. We realized that ISSYP could have another powerful function: showing these kids that they aren’t alone.”

For students who typically are alone at the top of their class, finding peers is a revelation. ISSYP is a summer camp, of course – but it’s more than that. It’s a life-changer.

– Erin Bow

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