16-year-old physics grad completes ‘incredible journey’ at ܼѿȫ

Daniel Honciuc Menendez carried out research on dark matter detection and theoretical quantum optics

Daniel Honciuc Menendez, 16, is the youngest to graduate from the Faculty of Arts & Science, ܼѿȫ Scarborough or U of Mississauga since at least 1979 (photo by Diana Tyszko)

Daniel Honciuc Menendez was 11 years old when he took part in a summer program in theoretical physics at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont., in 2019.

“I’d known for a long time that I wanted a career in physics. But it was in this program that I learned for sure that this was what I wanted to do with my life,” says Honciuc Menendez, who is Ecuadorean and was living in the country's capital Quito at the time.

The trip was his first visit to Canada – and made a big impression. “I liked the openness of the people and the diversity. So I decided that when I applied to universities, I would make sure to apply to universities in Canada.”

After completing high school at age 12, Honciuc Menendez received offers of admission from 12 post-secondary institutions in Canada, the U.S. and Ecuador. He chose the ܼѿȫ, where he received an , and began his undergraduate studies as a member of University College.

Honciuc Menendez at 11 years old at the launch of one of his experiments on a rocket with the NASA Cubes in Space program at the Wallops Flight Facility (photo courtesy Daniel Honciuc Menendez)

Now 16 years old, Honciuc Menendez is graduating with a specialist in physics and a major in mathematics with high distinction. He’s the youngest to graduate from the Faculty of Arts & Science, ܼѿȫ Scarborough or ܼѿȫ Mississauga since at least 1979, the year the university began tracking such data.

“I’m proud and excited to be graduating,” he says. “It’s the culmination of four years of hard work, research and volunteer experiences. I’m really looking forward to convocation.”

Faculty of Arts & Science writer Chris Sasaki spoke to Honciuc Menendez before his convocation.

When did your interest in science begin?

I started reading at an early age. When I was very young, my mother and I moved often to different countries because of her career. During this time, I was surrounded by a variety of books, including math books, puzzle books, encyclopedias and atlases. They became my early companions and mentors. Also, even before starting school, I was captivated by educational videos, websites and apps about math, physics, chemistry and other subjects. Then, at 4 years old, while living in the U.K., I gained early entrance into grade school and became interested in programming and robotics. I attended every science festival I could. It became clear to me that I wanted to pursue a life in the sciences.

What was your early education like?

Early entrance into grade school in the U.K. was my first ‘grade-skip.’ When I was six years old, we moved back to Ecuador and I wanted to learn more challenging material during my classes. After meetings with my new school, I was encouraged to apply to the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Centre for Talented Youth. Upon passing the entrance tests, I was admitted into the program, which allowed me to take advanced courses.

At nine years old, I skipped another grade and started auditing International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma classes in physics and music. Then, when I was 10 years old, I also took the SAT and with its results, I was allowed to skip four more grades to 11th grade and was also able to join other programs like JHU’s Study of Exceptional Talent. From there, I took a full IB diploma program and graduated from high school at 12 years old.

What research projects were you able to take part in at ܼѿȫ?

The first was with Professor Miriam Diamond in dark matter detection with the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment at , an underground research facility near Sudbury for neutrino and dark matter studies. I developed and tested dark matter detector simulations and conducted data analysis on remote servers.

The second was in theoretical quantum optics with Professor John Sipe at the , in which I investigated the theoretical optical response for waveguide-quantum dot systems that could be used as the basis for optical quantum computers.

Throughout both experiences, the collaborative and inclusive spirit of the physics community really inspired me. The professors and researchers provided invaluable mentorship to me and have significantly shaped my decision to pursue a physics research career involving high-energy physics and quantum information.

Honciuc Menendez pursued his interest in music with the  ensemble (photo courtesy Daniel Honciuc Menendez)

What field are you most interested in now?

I’m interested in quantum information and high-energy physics. Quantum information is a unique field that has applications to various disciplines, since quantum computers can solve various problems that classical computers cannot. I want to specialize in quantum algorithms since they’re essential to realizing the potential of quantum information in its applications, including in my other field of interest, high-energy physics. The more I learn about quantum information's capabilities and its synergy with high-energy physics, the more I realize the significant impact these technologies could have on our understanding of the universe and on advancing computational sciences.

What are your plans after graduation?

I was honored to receive a full scholarship from the European Union to pursue a master's of science in physics with a concentration in quantum science and technology. The program will take place over two years at the Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, then at Université Paris-Saclay in France, and lastly at ܼѿȫ. I’ll be taking courses and developing my career in quantum technology in academia and industry, and exploring the interdisciplinary possibilities of the quantum science landscape, including in high-energy physics, medicine, cybersecurity and finance. Later, I want to pursue a PhD in physics where I can go deeper into the intersection between quantum information and high-energy physics.

What are your thoughts as you look back at the past four years?

Throughout these years, the support from my friends, professors and mentors at ܼѿȫ, and the resources provided by University College and ܼѿȫ’s Accessibility Services have been invaluable and have helped me navigate the complexities of academic life and the personal challenges of being a young student. Plus, all of this would not have been possible without the unconditional support from my mother, a single mom who has been my constant source of strength and inspiration, and who accompanied me as I pursued my studies in Canada.

These past four years have been transformative for me — not just academically but also personally — and were filled with challenges, achievements and growth. It’s been an incredible journey, and I step forward with a heart full of gratitude for the ܼѿȫ community, ready for the next chapter of my life.

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