Every year, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge is held as a global event. This video competition, founded by Yuri Milner and his wife Julia, is designed to help students explore creative thinking in a scientific context. The winner of the Challenge earns the Breakthrough Prize, which provides scholarship money, a monetary gift for the student’s teacher, and funding for a school science lab.
The Challenge came about as part of the Giving Pledge created by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. The Milners joined that pledge in 2012 and began exploring ways to give in the most important and valuable ways possible. That’s part of the pledge, which is not only about giving but about how giving benefits society. Because Julia and Yuri Milner take that pledge seriously, they created the Breakthrough Junior Challenge to help encourage a new generation of scientists.
The application process for the Challenge is over for this year, and the panel of reviewers has narrowed the field down to 75 finalists. These are students who are between 13 and 18 years of age. They come from around the world, including multiple regional champions. Regions are divided into:
- North America
- Central/South America
- Australia/New Zealand
- Middle East/Africa
Every student who participates in the Challenge submits a video that’s no longer than 1:30 minutes. This video has to bring a mathematics, physics, or life science concept to life in a way that’s engaging and communicates complex ideas. The illumination and engagement the video offers matter. The organizer of the Challenge is the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, which Yuri Milner and his wife founded.
With the review and judging at an end for this round, the Popular Vote begins. The video with the highest engagement on YouTube and Facebook gets to bypass the next judging stage and move to the final 5. The student who wins the Breakthrough Junior Challenge receives a $250,000 scholarship. Their school receives $100,000 to fund a science lab, and the teacher who inspired them receives $50,000, as well.
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge and its associated Breakthrough Prize have the opportunity to change lives. Not only that, but it offers strong encouragement for students to focus on science. The Milners have chosen to use their Giving Pledge efforts to continue to help students see the value of science and explore it for themselves. By asking big questions now, these students may help future generations and improve the world around them.
Students work with one another to explain concepts to their peers all the time. The Challenge allows these students to do that on a much larger scale. With the Breakthrough Prize, students also have the chance to get significant benefits for their interest in scientific development. The scholarship money allows students who win the Breakthrough Junior Challenge to pursue their education in science-based areas more easily.
Yuri Milner and his wife are committed to their Giving Pledge and the opportunities it provides for young people like Maryam Tsegaye, who won the Challenge in 2020, and Amber Kwok, who was the challenge winner in 2021. Tsegaye lives in Canada and was 17 when she won. Kwok was 18 when she won and lives in Mauritius. In 2021 there was a special category of the competition in Space Exploration, won by 17-year-old Gornekk Suwattanapong from Thailand.
The Challenge began in 2015, and past competition finalists have ranged from 15 to 18 years old. They came from a wide variety of countries and regions, inspired by the Giving Pledge and the Challenge. In 2019, US student Jeffery Chen, a 17-year-old, was the winner of the challenge, and in 2018 the winner was 16-year-old Samay Godika from India.