Meet Tales Rick Perche, recipient of a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Rick stands in front of a chalkboard covered in equations

Tales Rick Perche sees his research at the University of Waterloo as part of his lifelong search for truth.

Rick Perche (His full last name is “Rick Perche,” but he uses “Rick” colloquially as a first name among colleagues and friends) is a PhD candidate in Quantum Information at Waterloo, affiliated with the Institute of Quantum Computing (IQC) and the Perimeter Institute (PI). This year, he won a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Canada’s most prestigious PhD scholarship, for his academic excellence, research potential, and leadership. He’s doing cutting-edge research, most prominently on his major project: “The Geometry of Spacetime from Quantum Measurements.”

Ten years ago, however, Rick Perche was just a kid growing up in Campinas, Brazil. He didn’t have any particular interest in physics, let alone quantum physics. He just knew that he was interested in truth.

When Brazilian students finish high school, they have to write an entrance exam to get accepted to their university program of choice. Rick Perche had decided he wanted to be a lawyer: he was quick thinking and loved to build logical arguments. While he was studying for the entrance exam, he spent all of his spare time watching educational videos and reading books about science. The creators – often physicists – were excited about answering questions about the universe, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Perche changed his mind, and decided to apply to a program in Mathematical Physics instead.

The Mathematics program at Campinas State University was notoriously hard, but Rick Perche approached his studies using “the lawyer will inside me.” He worked methodically, gathered evidence, and built arguments, and he thrived.

At the end of his program in Mathematical Physics, he took part in a one-week program on theoretical physics hosted by the ICTP South American Institute for Fundamental Research in São Paulo. He scored in the top three on the program’s exit exam, winning a coveted spot in the PSI program at the Perimeter Institute here at Waterloo.  

Within a year and a half, Rick Perche completed a master’s in theoretical physics at São Paulo State University (SPSU) and a master’s in physics at Waterloo. During worked as a TA, and one of his mentors at SPSU, Professor Marcelo de Oliveira Terra Cunha, allowed him to teach an undergraduate course. It was during this time that he discovered his passion for teaching and sharing his knowledge with others. Perche’s mother and grandmother are both teachers, and for him teaching became a way to carry on their legacy while pursuing his own burning curiosity.

Meanwhile, at Waterloo, Rick Perche mentors encouraged him to apply to a PhD program here, and in September 2020, he began his PhD in Applied Mathematics (Quantum Information) at Waterloo.

Rick Perche credits his academic mentors throughout his life for encouraging him to come this far: his mother and grandmother, the teachers he encountered in science books and videos, his professors in Brazil, and now his supervisors and collaborators here at Waterloo. His project supervisors Dr. Eduardo Martín-Martínez and Dr. David Kubiznak were the ones who helped him apply for the Vanier.

With the $150,000 scholarship, Rick Perche will be able to pay his increased international tuition costs and focus on his research. Ultimately, he hopes to become a professor so that he can pursue questions about quantum physics, mentor the next generation of students, and do science outreach as well. “I would like to get to that position of power to be one of those people who can drive science towards more equity and diversity…My dream is to be able to do good research, supervise good students, and improve science overall.”