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Very rubin observatory, Credit: Rubin Obs/NSF/AURA

Luke Santi Award winner lauded for service and science

account_circle By Stephanie Keating
Graeme Ko, a first-year physical sciences student at the University of Waterloo, has won this year’s Luke Santi Memorial Award for Student Achievement.

Ask a 10-year-old what they want to be when they grow up and you could get any kind of reply: An actor. A veterinarian. A hockey player. A nurse. Still, Graeme Ko managed to surprise everyone when he declared that he wanted to become an astrophysicist.

“I think at first [my parents] thought that it was just a whim, that I just saw something on TV – which, technically I did,” Ko laughed. “But I still kind of want to be one now.”

The idea took root after Ko’s father suggested they watch Carl Sagan’s series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The two often enjoyed science documentaries together, but this one in particular drew young Ko in.

He was inspired by the wonders of the universe and tales of great science pioneers. Take (for a very famous example) the story of Albert Einstein: “It was so interesting to see this kid who dropped out of school, but was so interested in physics and learning that he did so many amazing things, and was so curious about the universe,” said Ko.

Ko’s passion for physics and his high academic achievements, combined with a breadth of volunteering and extracurricular activities, won him this year’s Luke Santi Memorial Award for Student Achievement. The award is presented annually to a Canadian postsecondary student who embodies the qualities of Luke Santi, a high school student and friend of Perimeter who had a passion for research and discovery, earning top marks while volunteering his time in service of others.

Graeme Ko posing with his award
Graeme Ko (center) with the Luke Santi Award

Growing up in Victoria, British Columbia, Ko got his start volunteering at a school for children with disabilities, where his mother is the principal. He continued to give back to the community throughout high school, spending his free time serving at a soup kitchen, providing home support for people with serious illnesses, and preserving the local ecosystems by removing invasive species.

On top of that, Ko plays trombone, euphonium, trumpet, and piano, sang in his high school choir, and has spent the last 12 years heavily involved in the family tradition: Highland dancing. (He’s won more than 50 trophies so far.)

Now 17, Ko is in his first year of the Honours Physical Sciences Co-op program at the University of Waterloo. Astrophysics still intrigues him, but he is eager to explore other applications of physics through courses, internships, and co-op placements.

How does he balance university with his flurry of activities? “If you really enjoy something, you want to do it all the time,” he explained.

Ko was presented with the Luke Santi Memorial Award in front of a packed theatre at Perimeter Institute, moments before Perimeter Director Neil Turok delivered his public lecture, “We Are Innovators.”

Though he has received many awards for his various endeavours, he says receiving this particular award, with its focus on physics, is particularly meaningful. “I think that it’s an indication that I’m on the right path,” he says. “I’m just very honoured to receive it.”

About PI

Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement. 

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Mike Brown
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