Self-described “science addict” Hillary Diane Andales is ever closer to achieving her astrophysicist dreams. The 19-year-old has just accepted a scholarship from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology after turning down seven other offers.
While a career in science was always in the works, it was her family’s experience with Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded on Earth at the time, that solidified a desire to communicate scientific concepts simply.
Andales and her family were stranded on their roof for seven hours while the water swallowed their home. Scientific knowledge, she said in a press conference, could have helped prevent casualties during Typhoon Haiyan.
“When the storm surge occurred, we were quite complacent. We did not evacuate,” she said.
"I was actually really disappointed in myself. Even though I was already interested in science, I didn't know what a storm surge was."
She added, "I think that was a big flaw in the process of science communication in our country because I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know [about it].”
After MIT, Andales hopes to land a job at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) producing visual materials that make science concepts digestible, especially to her fellow Filipinos.
She seems to have a knack for it. She won first prize in the 2017 Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an annual international competition where teenage students submit original videos communicating fundamental concepts or theories in the sciences. Her winning video, titled “Relativity and the Equivalence of Reference Frames,” discusses the theory of relativity in an easy and straightforward manner. She said she had to watch 200 tutorials on animation and video editing.
Andales’ early commitment to science is admirable (she also keeps a blog where she writes about science) but her true talent might just be her tenacity. Before her 2017 win, she lost in the previous year but gave it another go. She had also applied to countless competitions before that. She keeps a folder of all of her mistakes and failures dubbed the “Attempts Folder.”
"When I look at my attempts folder, I see myself as someone who's not afraid of failure and someone who is going into things, entering into things with the intent to grow, not to win,” she said.
An MIT scholarship though is most definitely winning.