In recent years, Yuri Milner, the founder of internet investment company DST Global, has turned his keen eye to private funding in the world of science. The Israeli entrepreneur joined Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge in 2012, founding the Breakthrough Foundation and Breakthrough Prize in the same year. Then, recalling how his childhood discovery of scientific ideas galvanized his passion for the subject, in 2015, Yuri Milner and his wife Julia launched a global video competition for high school students: the Breakthrough Junior Challenge.
The 2022 annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge is now in the final phase of judging. Ahead of the November winner announcement, now is the perfect time to review the competition’s rules and prizes, look at some of this year’s impressive entrants, and find out more about the Breakthrough Foundation’s aims.
How Can You Enter the Breakthrough Junior Challenge?
Young people looking to enter the Challenge must be between the ages of 13 and 18 but can come from anywhere in the world. Their video submissions must be original and a maximum of 90 seconds in length. These submissions must bring to life a concept in the life sciences, physics, or mathematics. Judges assess the submissions based on the entrants’ ability to communicate complicated scientific ideas in illuminating, engaging, and imaginative ways.
What Can You Win?
With a total prize fund worth $400,000, entrants could win:
- A $250,000 post-secondary scholarship
- A $100,000 Breakthrough Science Lab for their school
- A $50,000 prize for their teacher.
How Do Judges Assess the Videos?
Four judging stages narrow down the competition entrants:
- A Peer-to-Peer Review, in which entrants assess other entrants’ videos.
- An Evaluation Panel Review, in which judges shortlist videos from the top 75 entries.
- A Popular Vote, in which the public votes for their favourite videos on social media.
- A Selection Committee Review, in which the judges select five videos to compete against the Popular Vote winner in the final round of the contest. The 2022 Challenge is currently in this fourth stage.
Who Are the 2022 Challenge Finalists?
From alien life to muons and tachyons, some of the subjects covered by the 2022 finalists include:
- “Gaussian Curvature,” by Kyle Christian Cloma, 16
- “Quantum Superposition,” by Yunseo Ha, 15
- “Muons and New Physics,” by Alex Kader, 16
- “Silicon Life?” by Sean Lewis, 18
- “Tachyons,” by Aryan Malhotra, 15
- “Life and Entropy,” by Ema Donev, 14, who is also the Popular Vote top scorer.
Who Organises the Breakthrough Junior Challenge?
The Breakthrough Foundation organises the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. A result of Yuri Milner and his wife Julia’s Giving Pledge commitment to science philanthropy, the Breakthrough Foundation has three core aims:
- To confer greater prestige on leading researchers in scientific fields
- To raise the big questions of science among the public
- To encourage young people to pursue scientific ideas in higher education and beyond.
Aside from the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, the Breakthrough Foundation also oversees the Breakthrough Initiatives and the Breakthrough Prize, which celebrates the world’s leading scientists and their groundbreaking developments. The Breakthrough Prize is the largest science award in the world, and many refer to it as the “Oscars of Science.”
Why Is the Breakthrough Junior Challenge Important?
Breakthrough Prize aside, fuelled by a childhood fascination with science, Yuri Milner believes that young people have a knack for explaining complex ideas to their peers, and the Challenge provides them with a worldwide platform on which to showcase their knowledge.
His Giving Pledge letter mentions heroes like Einstein and Galileo whose genius, courage, and conviction allowed them to defy conventions. Backed by his lifelong Giving Pledge commitment, Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Junior Challenge continues to inspire the next generation of scientific minds.