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Meet the 2020-2022 Luke Santi Award Winners

Three Canadian students win the Luke Santi Memorial Award, recognizing their academic performance, interest in science, extracurricular activities, and volunteering.

The Luke Santi Memorial Award holds a special place in the Perimeter community. Each year, it recognizes a student who embodies the ideals of the Institute: a passion for science, unbounded curiosity, and wholehearted engagement with society and the wide world.

Those traits were also found in the award’s namesake, Luke Santi. Luke was a high school student with a passion for physics. He attended several Perimeter public lectures and took part in the Institute’s International Summer School for Young Physicists (ISSYP) in 2007. His joie de vivre was evident in everything he did, from physics classes to volunteer work to basketball. 

Luke’s legacy is honoured each year by the passion and enthusiasm of the award recipients, who show their own unique joie de vivre.

The award winner is usually invited to visit Perimeter Institute for a tour, as well as lunch with researchers and the Santi family. Since 2020, the pandemic has made that impossible, but recently Perimeter was able to open its doors to the winners of the past three years.

Meet Stanley Mio, Abigail Liebregt, and Ananda Thomlin, three exceptional students with big personalities and bigger dreams.

Stanley Mio (Awardee, 2020)

When Stanley Mio applied for the Luke Santi Award in 2020, he was a high school student at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in North York. At the time, his passion for physics was fuelled by wonder at the universe. “In the dark night sky, right above Ursa Major, lies a tiny patch of darkness,” he wrote in his application. “Taking up no greater than the tip of a pen at arm’s length in the night sky, one would assume that there would be nothing to see here. It appears to be a void for any measurable distance, insignificant to all of humankind. In fact, why would anyone point a multi-billion dollar telescope at a patch of this nothingness?”

That tiny patch of sky turned out to contain more than 10 thousand galaxies when the Hubble Space Telescope looked at it. “It’s beautiful,” wrote Mio.

Three years later, Mio is a third year Bachelor of Computer Science student at the University of Waterloo. He’s still looking for ways to understand the universe, but through computing rather than astronomy.

“I took a second-year course in quantum computing and quantum physics, and that really changed my intuition towards certain things. It was really, really fascinating, and it has pushed me to head in that direction,” said Mio. In the near future, he has his eye on a quantum information processing course and is excited by the promise the field of quantum computing holds, as well as his own role in it. 

Ever since high school, Mio has also helped his peers where he could, acting as a math tutor for years. Mio’s passion for science shines through in his approach to school and life, and he embodies all the characteristics the Luke Santi Award is meant to honour.

How does it feel to win the Luke Santi Award? “It feels amazing,” Mio says. “Even a few years later, getting this opportunity to see everything here at Perimeter: it’s really nice.”

Abigail Liebregt (Awardee, 2021)

Abigail Liebregt is a second year physical sciences student at the University of Guelph, and as she sees it, her journey toward winning the Luke Santi Award began years earlier, when she picked up an astronomy book from her school library in seventh grade, and it captivated her attention.

That moment set her on a path toward studying the universe. As someone who liked to explore the natural world via hiking and camping, she was already predisposed to journeys of discovery. “Physics is another way to appreciate nature through mathematics,” she said. “Problem solving to find solutions, no matter how hard the problem, is a challenging but rewarding experience. It is for these reasons that I am passionate about physics.” 

That passion was spurred during her time at Centre Wellington District High School in Fergus Ontario by a few inspirational teachers, one of whom organized an astronomy club. With only a few students in the club, it gave Liebregt plenty of chances to ask questions, and to delve deeper into physics, than a general high school science course would have allowed. The extra enrichment helped sustain her interest. Without it, she said, “There’s no way that I would have been where I am today. Those extracurriculars drove my passion.”

Seeing how motivated Liebregt was, her teacher suggested she apply to Perimeter’s summer student program, ISSYP.

“When I took part in ISSYP in the summer of 2020, I was able to thrive in the supportive and academically enriching atmosphere that was created by the instructors and by my fellow students. It was so much fun. It was online because of COVID, but I remember we talked about general relativity, special relativity, and black holes. I really enjoyed that program,” she said. 

“I took a year off after high school, so it was during 12+ that I took ISSYP, and that bridge between high school and university was super helpful for driving home that ‘yes, I want to do this, this is something I’m really passionate about.’” 

The Luke Santi Award has only motivated Liebregt further. “I feel immense gratitude,” she said. And she wants to pay it forward. Looking ahead, she would like to go to graduate school and teach at the university level, where she hopes to inspire students as her own teachers inspired her.

Ananda Thomlin (Awardee, 2022)

The most recent Luke Santi Award winner is Ananda Thomlin, a first year Bachelor of Science student at the University of British Columbia.

While touring Perimeter Institute with her fellow awardees, Thomlin said, “It has been very surreal and very mind-blowing. Honestly, I feel pretty lucky. It’s a bit wild getting to ask some of the questions that I’ve had for so long and see what it’s really like in this place that I’ve dreamed about for years. I love how collaborative it is here. That was not something I expected: how many open spaces with chalkboards there are, and how some of the offices are just windows on both sides. The idea of collaboration feels really central, and everyone is so eager to talk about what they love, which is amazing.”

Thomlin’s own interest in theoretical physics stretches back to childhood, and she has fond memories of stargazing, watching documentaries about space, and talking about the universe with her dad.

“I have always been one to ask ‘why?’ about the world around me. I light up just pondering the nature of everything from gravity, time, and energy to black holes and quantum mechanics,” she said. “I love physics because it is the language of the universe, and I can’t wait to discover more about this language.”

While a high school student at Kelowna Christian School, Thomlin put that passion to work and teamed up with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada on a community outreach project in Kelowna, called the Solar System Adventure.

But Thomlin’s interests are broad. She is also a ballet dancer and spent up to 20 hours every week dedicated to high-performance ballet in high school. Later, she put that experience to use supporting younger dancers in productions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker

“I am really passionate about a lot of things, and I like to explore as many of my interests as I can,” said Thomlin.

These diverse passions are a key part of what earned Thomlin the Luke Santi Award. The possibilities for human life are rich and varied, and science is just one piece of the puzzle. This is clear in Thomlin, whose academic achievements have been enhanced by her passion for dance and art and for community engagement.  

“I feel very honored and excited to receive this award,” she said. “I’m excited to meet the Santi family and I’m excited to see what else the day holds, but it’s been amazing. I feel really lucky to get to do this.”

Learn more about the Luke Santi Memorial Award

Established and funded by Perimeter Institute, this award is presented annually in memory of Luke Santi. Luke was a high school student who demonstrated a passion for research and discovery, earned top marks in his courses, took part in a variety of extracurricular activities, and volunteered his time in service of others.

In honour of Luke’s many accomplishments and contributions, the award is presented annually to a Canadian student who demonstrates Luke’s many qualities – academic performance, interest in science, extracurricular activities, and volunteering – and is graduating high school to begin post-secondary education in physical sciences at a Canadian university.

Applications for 2023 are accepted until May 31.

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