Fourteen years ago, a little girl fell in love with an astronomy book that was taller than she was.
Back then, four-year-old Hillary Diane Andales could not help but marvel at how much bigger Jupiter was than Earth, and how the Sun dwarfed all the planets in the Solar System. That towering tome of astronomy became her gateway to science, an entirely new world of wonders.
“Science just gives me a feeling of transcendental appreciation about my everything around me,” explains Hillary, “and that is why I love it.”
It was this love for science, fueled by her own curiosity and nurtured by a supportive and science-inclined family, that led her to join and win the top prize at the 2017 Breakthrough Junior Challenge. It is an annual video creation competition for students from 13 to 18 years old across the globe. Its participants are tasked with presenting physics, mathematics, and life science concepts in simple, informative, and engaging ways.
Despite being more of a math quizzer (this bright young student from the Philippine Science High School East Visayas has joined nearly 50 mathematics competitions in 12 years), this wasn’t Hillary’s first attempt at joining the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. She first joined in 2016; while she did not bag the top prize then, she learned a valuable lesson. “Regardless of the type of competition, I have found that preparation is key to winning,” shares Hillary. “The competitions which I prepared for are the ones I perform quite well in.”
And prepare for this one, she did. As early as a year ago, Hillary was already keeping an eye out for possible topics. Believe it or not, Hillary says that choosing the topic for her video was actually the hardest part. Hillary was searching for a topic that was “big, complex, unique, and relatable to a layman audience.”
After bouncing from one potential topic to another (“Quantum electrodynamics, perturbation theory, general relativity, quantum chromodynamics – I was all over the place!”), she eventually decided to go with Relativity and the Equivalence of Reference Frames. She did intensive research to understand the material well enough to create an accurate, creative, and captivating video.
Joining the Breakthrough Junior Challenge twice had a profound effect on Hillary. She happily consumed all the Physics videos she could find on YouTube and edX. She had a genuine feeling of satisfaction each time she learned something new. “Actually, I would watch a video while eating lunch in school or while combing my hair before leaving for school,” Hillary gushes. “I had never experienced such a voracious scientific interest before.”
Just like the rest of us
Unsurprisingly, Hillary dreams of becoming a research scientist dabbling in cosmology or particle physics. “I also want to be a science communicator so I can share science to more people,” shares Hillary, who maintains her own blog about science, school, and her life experiences.
For someone who can effectively simplify complex science concepts, Hillary seems just about as relatable as anyone else. In her spare time, she practices digital art and video-making, and is particularly fond of listening to “a lot of indie alternative music and K-pop.”
Interestingly, there’s one more thing about Hillary that other students her age could probably relate to. There have been times when Hillary wasn’t completely head over heels about science.
“In 5th Grade, I remember myself just stuffing the words porifera, echinoderms, arthropods, and mollusks in hopes of associating it with the right animal,” reminisces Hillary. “I didn’t even know the true significance of these animals until recently when I learned that the order in which these organisms appeared on Earth reveal much about our evolutionary history.”
From a different frame of reference
“We are subjected to the meaningless torture of memorizing intimidating terms and formulas without realizing their true significance and value,” shares Hillary — a sentiment that perfectly captures why so many students quickly lose any and all interest in science. She believes that there are better ways to teach science than the way it is currently taught in schools.
Hillary’s advice to those struggling with their science subjects? Focus on understanding the overall concepts and fundamentals first before shifting your attention to details like numbers and names.
“To those who are struggling, I feel your struggles,” says Hillary. “To those who dislike science, I hope you will soon realize that science is beyond the intimidating terms and equations; it is the way we understand the Universe.”
“Even if science is not your thing, I hope you can still appreciate the beauty of science. Science is everything and it matters to everyone!”
Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.