Backstory: The Qubits of College Acceptance

A Q&A with Lily Turaski, Winner of the People’s Choice prize and Runner Up in the Youth Category
Read the story first: The Qubits of College Acceptance

What inspired your story of unopened letters?

I'm a member of a local astronomy club. Another member found out about this competition and said, “Hey, maybe some of you would be interested.” I got the idea to do something on the observer effect from a YouTube video my teacher showed us in chemistry class, it’s one of the things that makes quantum theory a little bit weird, which lends itself well to an interesting plot. I personally am a junior in high school, so I haven’t applied to any colleges yet; that’s next year. But I have a couple of friends who are seniors, and I was mulling over the idea for this story at the time they were doing college applications. That’s where my story came together.

Where do you go to school?

I'm homeschooled. I do most of my classes at home, but I take a chemistry class through the local community college. I really enjoy science; that's my favourite subject. There are a lot of things I can do really well at home because I'm good at studying on my own. But for chemistry in particular there are some advantages to having an actual laboratory versus what I have in my kitchen.

I originally started homeschooling because I also race horses competitively long distance, and being able to take my school on the road makes that a possibility. My nana got me started with horse racing – she lives just down the trail in the woods from me and keeps horses. I started racing when I was eight.

Being homeschooled means that you have a flexible schedule, which makes it easier to join clubs and competitions. One really fun thing I’ve done is Science Bowl.

What is Science Bowl?

It’s a US competition for middle school and high school kids; I’ve been taking part since sixth grade. It’s like a game show where they ask questions about different science topics, and you have to buzz in as soon as you know the answer. My first introduction to quantum physics was being asked a question about Schrodinger’s cat when I was in eighth grade. I didn't know what it was - I had to google it. The Science Bowl has influenced a lot of what I've learned. It is what inspired me to look at particle physics, and it's also why I decided I love astronomy. Recently Tennessee had 59 teams come to the State-level competition, and my team actually won, which means that we'll go to the national competition in Washington DC in April. We’re a team of five from a homeschool group based around Knoxville.

How did you feel about winning the Quantum Shorts prizes?

I was very excited! At one point, someone asked me about the other essays. I said, “Well, you know, I really liked all of the essays that were shortlisted, but the People's Choice award isn't necessarily for the best essay as much as it is for the person who has the most friends, and I have a lot of friends.” I asked all my friends to vote for me. I asked the astronomy club that originally told me about the contest. I told all of my friends from horse racing, I asked everybody in my church, I asked my 4-H club, all my friends from Governor’s School, everybody in my chemistry class, all my family, and because I live in a small town, I even asked the postman, the librarians, the teller at the bank, my doctor, and my dentist!

Editor’s note: The Qubits of College Acceptance won not only the People’s Choice prize decided by public vote but also the Runner Up prize in the Youth Category, decided by a panel of expert judges.