Breakthrough Junior Challenge: Kids with ‘big idea’ in science or math can win $250K scholarship

Last year’s winner got $250,000 to go to Harvard. Which school will this year’s winner choose?

It’s time for the second year of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an offshoot of the Breakthrough Prize, a.k.a. Silicon Valley’s Oscars.

Last year, more than 2,000 students ages 13 to 18 from 86 countries submitted original videos to explain mathematical or scientific concepts. The video (also below) by the winner, 18-year-old Ryan Chester of Ohio, is called “Some Cool Ways to Understand the Special Theory of Relativity and What It Means About Time.”

The winner also scores $100,000 for a science lab for his or her high school, plus $50,000 for an inspirational teacher.

“The Breakthrough Junior Challenge encourages the next generation of scientists and leaders to help us all see scientific principles in new, fresh ways,” said Priscilla Chan, a Breakthrough Prize co-founder, in a press release. Other founders of the Breakthrough Prize — founded in 2012, it honors achievements in life sciences, physics and math — include Chan’s husband, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, along with Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki and Yuri and Julia Milner.

The Junior Challenge is funded by Zuckerberg and Chan and the Milners.

The videos will be judged on how engaging and illuminating they are, and on creativity and difficulty. They will go through a peer-to-peer review, then an evaluation panel and a popular vote, which is new this year. Then a selection committee including Salman Khan, founder of the online-learning nonprofit Khan Academy, will choose the winner.

The Khan Academy is a partner of the Junior Challenge, and last year led the development of the challenge’s website and materials, as I wrote.

Chester said the contest “changed his life” because he had never thought he could afford to attend Harvard University.

“My advice to current participants would be to definitely do your research,” Chester said in a press release. “Make sure you understand the topic better than you need to.  And add any kind of humor. The judges like humor.”

Submissions are being taken now through Oct. 1o. The winner will be announced during the Breakthrough Prize awards on Dec. 4. For more information, go to the Breakthrough Junior Challenge website.

Above: Screen shot from the winning video from last year’s Breakthrough Junior Challenge.


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