This year, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has once again seen teenagers around the world create short videos that explain complex subjects like quantum entanglement, silicon-based life, and our sleep cycle. Encouraging bright young minds to engage with tricky scientific theories, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge is the brainchild of Yuri Milner, Israeli technology investor, and science philanthropist. A Giving Pledge contributor, Yuri Milner also created the Breakthrough Prize, the biggest-ever award to celebrate top scientists and mathematicians.
Now that the Popular Vote, the third judging round of the young people’s science contest, has ended, the top scorer in this stage has moved to the last round of the competition. Meanwhile, the rest of the finalists are undergoing the Final Selection Review. While the 2022 finalists await the ultimate winner announcement, let’s recap the Breakthrough Junior Challenge judging process, its Giving Pledge origins, and some of this year’s video submissions.
How the Breakthrough Junior Challenge Works
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a science competition open annually to high school students aged 13 to 18. To enter, teenagers must make a short video, no more than 90 seconds in length, explaining a big idea in the life sciences, physics, or mathematics. Every year, the Challenge generates thousands of video submissions from all corners of the planet.
The winner receives three prizes: a $250,000 college scholarship, a state-of-the-art science lab for their school worth $100,000, and a $50,000 prize for the teacher who inspired them.
Beyond the life-changing prizes, contestants’ videos have lasting value as a contribution to our collective understanding of science. The Challenge provides a global platform for young people to demonstrate their flair for communicating deep ideas and to have their talent seen by adults and peers.
Once entrants have registered and submitted their applications, four rounds of judging stand between them and the coveted top spot. First, entrants must participate in a Peer-to-Peer Review, in which they score at least five videos from other contestants. An Evaluation Panel of global science leaders then reviews the 75 top-scoring videos. Judges score videos across four criteria: engagement, illumination, creativity, and difficulty.
The online Popular Vote comes next. This year’s contest has already completed this stage, where the public votes for their favorite videos on social media, and the highest-scoring video heads straight to the last round. This video will join five other top entries for the final winner decision, which the Selection Committee is currently selecting.
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge has its origins in Yuri Milner and his wife Julia’s 2012 Giving Pledge commitment. The Giving Pledge encourages the world’s wealthiest to donate prodigious amounts of money to philanthropic causes, and the Milners founded the Breakthrough Foundation to support and celebrate scientific breakthroughs.
The Breakthrough Foundation organizes the Breakthrough Prize as well as the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. The Breakthrough Prize is the largest science award in the world and is often referred to as the “Oscars of Science.” Through the Breakthrough Prize and the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, not to mention the Breakthrough Initiatives, the Breakthrough Foundation hopes to engage the public in some of science’s biggest questions while raising the profile of today’s scientists and inspiring the scientists of the future.
The selection committee will soon decide on a winner from the 2022 finalists and Popular Vote top scorer, who, this year, is Croatia’s Ema Donev, aged 14, with a video about life and entropy. Other finalists include Minatullah Ammar Abduljabbar, aged 17, from Iraq, whose video explains referred pain; Elias Fariz, aged 16, from the U.S., whose video describes pancake theorem; and Jaz Villanueva, aged 18, from the Philippines, whose video outlines the theory of general relativity.