Bright Young Things

As this year’s break­through Prize cer­e­mony ap­proaches, Rachel Duf­fell looks into the break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge and what its in­spir­ing young win­ners could mean for the fu­ture of science

Malaysia Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Rachel Duf­fell gives an in­sight to The Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge and its im­pact in in­spir­ing the youth for the fu­ture of science


The Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge is mak­ing science sexy so young stu­dents are in­spired to pur­sue it. Spawned by the Break­through Prize, which cel­e­brates the best work in the ar­eas of fun­da­men­tal physics, life sci­ences and math­e­mat­ics, the ju­nior con­test en­cour­ages stu­dents aged 13 to 18 to re­flect on chal­leng­ing con­cepts or com­plex the­o­ries in the same are­nas, and to bring those big ideas to life in short, en­gag­ing videos. The an­nual chal­lenge is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Break­through Prize Foun­da­tion— which or­gan­ises the Break­through Prizes founded by Yuri and Ju­lia Mil­ner, Sergey Brin and Anne Wo­j­ci­cki, and Mark Zucker­berg and Priscilla Chan—and the Khan Academy, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­vides free ed­u­ca­tion through on­line means in var­i­ous lan­guages to any­one, any­where, al­ways.


Young stu­dents sub­mit a three-minute video that shows their un­der­stand­ing of a sci­en­tific the­ory in the most imag­i­na­tive and orig­i­nal way they can. These videos can in­clude dra­matic con­struc­tions, doc­u­men­tary-style pre­sen­ta­tions, an­i­ma­tion, mo­tion graph­ics and other vis­ual ef­fects, and will be judged on en­gage­ment, il­lu­mi­na­tion, cre­ativ­ity and dif­fi­culty. On sub­mis­sion of their videos, stu­dent com­peti­tors will also be asked to re­view five other sub­mis­sions in a peer-to-peer eval­u­a­tion. The videos are then short­listed for a panel of re­searchers, ed­u­ca­tors and sci­en­tists to con­sider be­fore a pop­u­lar vote sin­gles out seven re­gional cham­pi­ons. The fi­nal se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, made up of pro­fes­sors, au­thors and as­tro­nauts, in­clud­ing some Break­through Prize win­ners, then judges the over­all win­ner. The prize is a schol­ar­ship of up to US$250,000 for the win­ner, as well as US$50,000 for the science teacher who in­spired that stu­dent, and a Break­through Science Lab for their school worth US$100,000, not to men­tion a trip for the ju­nior cham­pion to re­ceive his or her award at the star-stud­ded, tele­vised Break­through Prize cer­e­mony, at­tended by award-win­ning sci­en­tists and tech­nol­o­gists from Sil­i­con Val­ley and fa­mil­iar faces from Hol­ly­wood.


The Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge’s mis­sion is to bring more young peo­ple from ev­ery­where and ev­ery back­ground into science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics. “Our fu­ture de­pends on science, and science de­pends on our youth,” said US mu­si­cian when,

along­side Priscilla Chan, he an­nounced the Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge 2016 win­ner at the cer­e­mony. “Ev­ery jour­ney in science starts with a mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion,” added Chan, who stud­ied bi­ol­ogy at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity be­fore at­tend­ing the School of Medicine at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco. “For me, it was join­ing the ro­bot­ics team when I was 14. All it takes is one spe­cial push. That’s why we started the Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge, to give stu­dents around the world a chance to share what in­spires them.”


The in­au­gu­ral Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge 2015 was won by 18-year-old Ryan Ch­ester of the US. His video brings Ein­stein’s spe­cial the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity to life through phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences, clear ex­plana­tory di­a­logue and sim­ple mo­tion graph­ics. It was viewed more than 4 mil­lion times within six months on Youtube, a huge achieve­ment for a science video in the chal­lenge’s first year. Since win­ning the chal­lenge, and thanks, in part, to the schol­ar­ship fund he was awarded, Ch­ester has en­rolled at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity. “My life re­ally has changed,” says Ch­ester, who even had a day named after him by the mayor of his home­town of North Roy­al­ton, Ohio. Last year’s con­test, the third in­car­na­tion, was won by Hil­lary Diane An­dales, 18, of the Philip­pines. Her video ex­plains rel­a­tiv­ity and the equiv­a­lence of ref­er­ence frames through real-life sce­nar­ios com­ple­mented by fun mo­tion graph­ics. An­dales had just missed out on the top prize the pre­vi­ous year but won the pop­u­lar vote for the Asia re­gion for her video show­ing an ad­mirable un­der­stand­ing of the path in­te­gral for­mu­la­tion of quan­tum me­chan­ics. The 2016 chal­lenge was jointly won by Sin­ga­porean Deanna See, 17, and An­tonella Masini, 18, from Peru. See’s fas­ci­nat­ing and re­lat­able video about the is­sue of an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance, and what hap­pens when you use too much an­tibac­te­rial prod­uct or abuse an­tibi­otics, is en­gag­ing and rel­e­vant, while Masini’s en­thu­si­as­tic ex­pla­na­tion of quan­tum en­tan­gle­ment is a cap­ti­vat­ing and easy way to un­der­stand this com­plex phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non.


See is look­ing to study over­seas while in­tern­ing at a startup in Sin­ga­pore, where she is work­ing on a chat­bot that will be able to an­swer any maths prob­lem posed to it. Masini was ac­cepted into MIT and An­dales will be fol­low­ing in her foot­steps when she starts at MIT next year.


The next gen­er­a­tion is our fu­ture. And our fu­ture needs sci­en­tists be­cause, as Ch­ester so ac­cu­rately said when he ac­cepted the 2015 prize, “Science is every­thing.” The Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge not only in­spires cre­ative think­ing about science but also helps to en­sure that fu­ture sci­en­tists are great com­mu­ni­ca­tors. “Through the chal­lenge, I came to re­alise my po­ten­tial as a science com­mu­ni­ca­tor for the greater pub­lic,” said An­dales. “I got to in­spire so many young peo­ple, es­pe­cially in my coun­try, to ap­pre­ci­ate science and to dream big.” “When you learn a dif­fi­cult thing, it is like magic when you un­der­stand it, but I also think that you have to share it be­cause shar­ing it is im­por­tant to the de­vel­op­ment of the world,” said Masini when she re­ceived her award in 2016. Shar­ing can help in­spire more young peo­ple to pur­sue science and maths. The glitz and glam­our that sur­rounds this mod­ern-day No­bel Prize and its ju­nior ex­ten­sion is set to en­cour­age more young peo­ple to pur­sue science, and that can only be good for the fu­ture of the world.

The win­ners of the 2018 Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge will be an­nounced on Novem­ber 4 at the Break­through Prize awards cer­e­mony. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit break­throughju­nior­chal­

“Our fu­ture de­pends on science and science de­pends on our youth” -—

BLAZ­ING NEW TRAILS Clock­wise from left: Hil­lary Diane An­dales of the Philip­pines, win­ner of the 2017 Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge; Ryan Ch­ester, win­ner of the 2015 Break­through Ju­nior Chal­lenge; Peru­vian An­tonella Masini, who won the 2016 ju­nior chal­lenge jointly with Deanna See of Sin­ga­pore (not pic­tured); the tro­phy re­ceived by the win­ners

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