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OTTAWA – Angéline Lafleur is a Franco-Ontarian passionate about quantum engineering. The 20-year-old from Orleans is charting a future for herself in one of the most scholarly fields of engineering research, quantum properties. Inspired by renowned women, the young student and researcher wants to introduce technology to young Francophones and their teachers in elementary schools.
” How did this passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) come to you?
From a young age, I was influenced by my parents, who are both electrical engineers. I participated in summer camps at the University of Ottawa and very early on, I participated in many activities related to the world of engineering, science and technology.
It may not be surprising, but I was immediately hooked. I was interested in this world since I was little. On the other hand, I did not want to be like my parents. I chose the field of physics and science, since deep down, that’s what interested me the most… Well after that, I’m still learning electrical engineering so I’m doing a bit like my parents (Laughs).
VSow are your studies going today at the University of Ottawa?
I am doing two bachelor’s degrees simultaneously in physics and electrical engineering. It’s offered in French! Being able to do my studies in French is still very important.
You say that this passion came quite early?
Yes. It was when I was working in a computer store some time ago. It was actually one of my first experiences in the working world and I really enjoyed it. Then at the same time, it was there that I noticed that there was a problem in the relationship between clients and women.
Some of our customers had quite derogatory comments towards me. Once, a person said, “Do you really trust that girl with my computer? “. I was quite shocked to hear that! It was at that precise moment that I realized that sexism was not a problem of the past, but that it was very real today.
And so it was then that you discovered quantum physics?
You should know that when quantum physics was discovered in the late 1880s, early 1900s, many people thought there was nothing left to discover. They thought that after Newton and his research on gravitation, force and more, everything had been discovered. However, the field has evolved. Quantum physics talks about what is really small and its effect on the world on our scale (macroscopy). These are more modern discoveries that will apply to the infinitely small (microscopy) and to the infinitely large (the Universe).
With physics and computer science, the idea is to use quantum properties, in order to allow us to have more powerful computers. The most powerful in the world. But that’s not all, this field can allow us to solve problems to which we never thought we had solutions.
In particular, the field of health, cybersecurity or all areas that enter the quantum revolution. Research is expanding, and even if it is not yet part of our daily lives, it is an area that will change our future. Quantum properties are very difficult phenomena to understand and to me that is what makes them very intriguing.
What do you think of the lack of scientific research and the absence of French-language documentation in your field?
Everything is in English and the scientific and technical language is in English in North America. It is very difficult to make a career in this field in French unfortunately. It is frustrating as a Franco-Ontarian not to have enough scientific research written in French. Of course there are, but not the majority. On the other hand, the advantage of English is to be able to communicate with researchers all over the world. The scientific community is English-speaking.
What do you suggest?
In terms of sharing science with the public, there needs to be more documents available in French. Young people in French-speaking communities in Canada do not necessarily have access to educational or informational resources to encourage them to enter the field, where then they are not suitable for a young age. What is certain is that they are not always in French.
When I was in elementary school, many teachers had no means or resources available in science and especially in technology, in French. A priori, this is changing, the Ontario government has launched a science and technology programming curriculum for young people and for teachers in French schools. But we can clearly see that there is a contrast between the Francophone and Anglophone communities when it comes to access to technology.
What has been and what is your work within the councils of French-speaking schools in Ontario, for access to Science and Technology?
Right now I’m on a resource building project, I’ve been working on it for a year and a half, it’s still very new. The idea is to introduce technology to young French-speaking students in elementary schools, but also through teachers.
In high school, when I was at École Garneau, which is a school specializing in technology. The school had computer enrichment programs and I was often the only girl in class. So I contacted the school administration to change that. I have organized Technology Summits and workshops, in elementary schools for boys and girls. Of course, I also wanted there to be female and francophone representation.
How can we precisely help with a better representation of women?
I try to influence young French-speaking girls as I can, when I do my workshops with my students, my goal is to create connections. By that I mean the key is to have a mentor. In my life and in the learning I have had, it is from mentors who have supported and encouraged me that I have learned the most. So, yes, I hope to be able to play this role for other students to see them flourish in the STEM field.
Tell us a bit about your projects?
One of my projects, of which I am particularly proud, is the creation of a scholarship for a French-speaking girl. I approached my old school in order to select a girl who, when she graduates from a technological course, will be able to receive my scholarship to go to university.
I myself was pampered by this kind of attribution. In 2020, I received several scholarships to study at the University including the Schulich Leader and the stock market Horizon STEAM. I was extremely surprised, I had not planned this and it motivated me so much, on the one hand by giving back my knowledge to the community, but also by offering this scholarship.
In your opinion, what would be the best way to enable women to enter the world of engineering?
In the field of STEM, there is progress in certain courses. But in physics or in the scientific community in general, we see that women are always stigmatized. The problem comes from representations.
When we think of physics, we think of Hawking, Einstein, Newton, all white or old men and we don’t recognize ourselves in that. I had the extreme luck and opportunity to meet inspiring women engineers, such as Professor Nayoung Kim, from the University of Waterloo. I learned a lot from her, especially in quantum computing research. She is a mentor to me. This is exactly what young girls need to be interested in this field. I fell in love with research thanks to my mentors, like Adina Lucian-Mayer, with whom I worked in her physics research laboratory.
This is the best way to interest other young girls. But to inspire them, they still need to know that programs exist and that they are within their reach. It’s simple, we need more women in STEM to attract more of them.
What would be your advice for these young women who don’t dare to start?
All the fears and fears that young girls will feel at the idea of integrating science are legitimate. But this is also the case in many other areas. So, yes, sometimes we will feel very alone and very misunderstood. Those around us will even treat us differently and not necessarily as we should.
And maybe a lot of young girls won’t want to study science and technology in the end. But, I still wonder if it is because we have never seen women in these positions? It’s certainly because in the media, we don’t talk about it. I’m sure a lot of young girls don’t think it’s going to interest them. Should we just consider it?
My biggest advice would be to look for women who are in the field, a woman in a company, a researcher, a teacher… You will be surprised by the number of women who want to share this, who want to encourage, and show you how exciting is the field. »
ANGELINE LAFLEUR’S KEY DATES:
2002: Born in Ottawa, she grew up in Orléans
2018: First introduction to technology and IT
2019: Meeting with Professor Nayoung Kim, a decisive moment for her future
2020: Obtaining the Schulich Leaders and Horizon STEAM scholarship
2021: Recipient of the Saphir Jeunesse award from the Franco-Ontarian Foundation
2022: Presentation of his research in physics carried out in 2021 at the laboratory of Adina Lucian Mayer, in Chicago.
Every weekend, ONFR+ meets with a player in Francophone or political issues in Ontario and Canada.