Whiz kids wanted for Breakthrough Junior Challenge with $250,000 prize

Math and science whiz kids of the world, take note. From the Oscars of scientific progress comes the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an annual contest with a $250,000 prize.

The Breakthrough Prize for science was established in 2013 by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner. It aims to reward a cool $3 million to “scientists who toil without much recognition or fanfare and without much compensation,” Arthur Levinson, who was the prize institute’s chairman at the time, said. Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma and his wife, Cathy Zhang, later hopped aboard the giving train, and the institute added prizes for breakthroughs in math, too.

Now the Breakthrough Prize has teamed up with the Khan Academy and wants to give away more money — to 13-to-18-year-olds with big ideas — in the form of a college scholarship.

“This project is about unleashing young people’s capacity for fresh thinking and inspiring a new generation of scientists,” Breakthrough Prize co-founder Chan, who’s also a doctor and the wife of Facebook CEO Zuckerberg, said in a press release. “We want to encourage students from around the world to share complex ideas with their peers.”

Oh, and the junior winners will also get to meet the grownup winners at a glamorous ceremony in Silicon Valley. (The first awards ceremony, complete with red carpet, was held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View in December 2013. It was hosted by actor Kevin Spacey and attended by tech and Hollywood stars.) There’s more: Teachers and schools of the winning students will receive money, too.

Breakthrough Junior Challenge is accepting applicants now through Oct. 7. The video submissions should explain “a challenging and important mathematical, life sciences, or physics theory or concept,” according to the contest’s website. The submissions will be subject to a peer review, then a couple of rounds of evaluation and judging. Among the judges is Salman Khan, founder and CEO of online-learning pioneer Khan Academy — which vetted the other judges and led the development of the challenge’s website and other related materials.

The Junior Challenge couldn’t have come at a better time. Last week, Intel said it would stop sponsoring the Science Talent Search in 2017, after almost 20 years of funding the annual contest that awards prizes totaling a few million dollars to high school students around the country. In this age of increased attention to science, technology and math, our own Michelle Quinn called Intel’s decision puzzling and disappointing, and suggested that others in Silicon Valley might want to step up and take over the sponsorship.


Photo: Google’s Sergey Brin answers questions on the red carpet at the 2014 Breakthrough Prize event at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View on Dec. 12, 2013. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Ulyses Osuna

    This is the first time I’ve ever heard of the challenge but I’m hoping the grading process between our peers is ethical and fair. I created mine as a whiteboard animation video so it’s engaging and both video and audio is good quality. https://youtu.be/In2rqFNGEi4 Let me know what you guys think!

  • Will Pflaum

    This contest used peer review to whittle the 2500 original videos to 75 finalist. This process was flawed. Here is my son’s video which is, in my humble opinion, far better than the winner:https://youtu.be/zYWmV2l4QhA