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OTTAWA – Angéline Lafleur is a French-Ontarian passionate about quantum technology. The 20-year-old from Orleans is charting a future for himself in one of the most scientific areas 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 primary 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 attended 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 have been interested in this world since I was little. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be like my parents. I chose physics and science as deep down that’s what interested me the most… After that I’m still learning electrical engineering so I’m kind of like my parents (laughs).
vshow are your studies going today at the university of ottawa?
I am currently doing two bachelor’s programs simultaneously in physics and electrical engineering. It is offered in French! Being able to study in French is still very important.
You say 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. So at the same time, that’s when I noticed that there was a problem in the relationship between clients and women.
Some of our customers had quite disparaging comments about me. Once someone said, “Do you really trust that girl with my computer?”. I was quite shocked to hear that! It was at that very moment that I realized that sexism was not a problem of the past, but that it was very real today.
And then that’s when you discovered quantum physics?
You should know that when quantum physics was discovered in the late 1880s, early 1900s, many believed that there was nothing left to discover. They believed that after Newton and his research into gravitation, force and more, everything had been discovered. However, the field has evolved. Quantum physics talks about what is really small and its impact on the world at our scale (macroscopy). These are more modern discoveries that will apply to the infinitely small (microscopy) and the infinitely large (the universe).
With physics and computer science, the idea is to use quantum properties 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 that we never thought we had solutions for.
Especially the health field, cyber security or all areas entering the quantum revolution. Research is expanding, and although 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 exciting.
What do you think about 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 being 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, more documents need to be 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 fields in which they are not suited at a young age. What is certain is that they are not always in French.
When I was in elementary school, many teachers did not have the means or resources available in science and especially in technology, in French. A priori this is about to change, 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 English communities when it comes to access to technology.
What has been and what is your work on the councils of francophone schools in Ontario, to access science and technology?
Right now I’m working 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 primary schools, but also through teachers.
In high school, when I attended École Garneau, which is a school specializing in technology. The school had computer enrichment programs and I was often the only girl in the class. So I contacted the school management to change it. I have organized technology summits and workshops in elementary schools for boys and girls. Of course, I would also like there to be female and francophone representation.
How exactly can we help with a better representation of women?
I try to influence young French-speaking girls as best I can, when I do my workshops with my students, my goal is to make 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 play this role so that other students can see them flourish in the STEM field.
Tell us a little about your projects?
One of my projects that I am particularly proud of is the creation of a scholarship for a French-speaking girl. I approached my old school to select a girl who, when she completes a technology course, will be able to receive my scholarship to go to university.
I myself was spoiled by this kind of attribution. In 2020, I received several scholarships to study at university, including Schulich leads and the stock market Horizon STEAM. I was extremely surprised, I didn’t plan this and it motivated me so much, on the one hand by giving back my knowledge to society, but also by offering this scholarship.
In your opinion, what would be the best way to enable women to enter the world of engineering?
Within STEM, progress is being made 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 female engineers, such as Professor Nayoung Kim, from 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 take an interest in this field. I fell in love with research thanks to my mentors, like Adina Lucian-Mayer, who I worked with in her physics research lab.
This is the best way to interest other young girls. But to inspire them, they still need to know that programs exist and are within their reach. It’s simple, we need more women in STEM to attract more of them.
What would be your advice to these young women who don’t dare to start?
All the fear and apprehension that young girls will feel at the thought of integrating science is 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 perhaps many young girls will not want to study science and technology in the end. But I still wonder if it’s because we’ve never seen women in these positions? It’s definitely because we don’t talk about it in the media. I’m sure many young girls don’t think it will interest them. Should we just consider it?
My biggest piece of advice would be to look for women who are in the field, a woman in business, a researcher, a teacher… You will be surprised at the number of women who will share this, who will encourage and show you where the field is exciting. »
ANGELINE LAFLEUR’S MAIN DATES:
2002: She was born in Ottawa and grew up in Orléans
2018: First introduction to technology and IT
2019: Meeting with Professor Nayoung Kim, a defining moment for her future
2020: Obtaining the Schulich Leaders and the 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.