Breakthrough Prize Foundation Announces Semifinalists In Sixth Annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 8, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The Breakthrough Prize Foundation today announced the top 30 student semifinalists in the sixth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge global science video competition, and kicked off the ‘Popular Vote’ phase, posting all videos online on the Breakthrough Facebook page and inviting people from around the world to vote for their favorite video in the contest.

The 30 semifinalists were selected from thousands of students who created three-minute videos on wide-ranging topics, from quantum tunneling and the mystery of dark matter to the structure of the COVID-19 virus.

Since its launch, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has reached 202 countries with more than 60,000 registrants, and the 2020 instalment of the global competition attracted more than 5,600 applicants. The contest is designed to inspire fresh, creative explanations of fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics and mathematics. For this year’s challenge, participants had the option of entering a special submission section focused on the science of pandemics. By establishing the new pandemic section, contest organizers gave students the option of exploring a number of the themes that ring especially relevant today, including epidemiology, virology, modeling a disease outbreak, the mathematics of exponential growth, the science of pandemics, immunology, and biostatistics.

In total, the 30 semifinalists hail from all around the world, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Egypt, Korea, India, Indonesia, Italy, Morocco, Romania, Philippines, the U.K. and Venezuela. The videos represent the top submissions following a review by the Evaluation Panel. The group includes two top-scoring submissions from each of seven geographical regions — North America (US / Canada), Central/South America, Europe, Asia, Middle East/Africa, India, and Australia/New Zealand — as well as remaining top-scoring videos from the panel’s review.

All 30 semifinalists will compete in the ‘Popular Vote’ contest, open now until Sunday, September 20 at 11:59 PM PT. The ‘Popular Vote’ invites the public to vote for their favorite semifinalist submission on the Breakthrough Facebook page. The video with the highest number of combined likes, positive reactions (e.g. “love”, “haha”, “wow”), and shares will be declared top scorer in the 2020 Popular Vote. The top scorer will progress automatically to the final round of the competition, bypassing the next round of judging and entering the running for overall Challenge winner. Additionally, the pandemic-focused video with the highest combined likes, shares, and positive reactions on the original post will be named the 2020 COVID-19 Top Scorer and will automatically bypass the next round of judging and be placed in the final round of judging.

In addition to creating and producing their own video entries, Challengers must also participate in a round of peer-to-peer assessment, in which they score some of their fellow competitors’ submissions.

“The quality of the videos this year is extremely high,” said Julia Milner, co-founder of the Breakthrough Prize. “It’s really thrilling to see young people communicating these big ideas with such intelligence, as well as freshness and creativity.”

“The critical importance of science and math is clear this year amid Covid-19,” said Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy. “These videos will help people across the planet understand the nature and dynamics of pandemics and other phenomena. It’s inspiring to see bright young people from so many countries, cultures and backgrounds using their skills to help the rest of us understand our world.”

On Monday, September 21, the 15 finalists and the top scorer in the ‘Popular Vote’ categories (Regional and COVID-19) will be revealed. The top-scorer in the Popular Vote will receive automatic entry into the finalist round. Additionally, each of the seven geographic regions will have a top-scorer who will be named a Regional Champion.

The 15 top-scoring finalist videos will be reviewed by the Selection Committee, comprising: Ian Agol, Professor of Mathematics, University of California, Berkeley, and Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics Laureate; Rachel Crane, Space and Science Correspondent, CNN; author and educator Lucy Hawking; Dr. Mae Jemison, science literacy expert, former astronaut, and Principal, 100 Year Starship; retired NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly; Sal Khan, Founder and CEO, Khan Academy; Ijad Madisch, CEO, Co-Founder, ResearchGate; Terence Tao, Professor of Mathematics, UCLA and Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics Laureate; Esther Wojcicki, Founder, Palo Alto High Media Arts Center; Pete Worden, Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director, Breakthrough Initiatives; and Huda Zoghbi, Professor of Pediatrics and professor of Neuroscience and Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine and Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Laureate.

The winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge will be awarded a $250,000 college scholarship. The science teacher who inspired the winning student will win a $50,000 prize. The winner’s school will also receive a state-of-the-art science lab valued at $100,000. The winner receives the prize at the annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony, alongside the new Prize laureates representing some of the most acclaimed scientists in the world. This year, due to the pandemic, the ceremony has been postponed, and is now planned for March 2021.

For the sixth year, students ages 13-18 were invited to create original videos (up to three minutes in length) that illustrated a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics. The submissions were evaluated on the students’ ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in the most engaging, illuminating, and imaginative ways. 

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge 
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge, founded by Yuri and Julia Milner, is a global science video competition, aiming to develop and demonstrate young people’s knowledge of science and scientific principles; generate excitement in these fields; support STEM career choices; and engage the imagination and interest of the public-at-large in key concepts of fundamental science. 

The Breakthrough Prize
For the ninth year the Breakthrough Prize, renowned as the “Oscars of Science,” will recognize the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences (up to four per year), Fundamental Physics (one per year) and Mathematics (one per year). In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics, up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes and three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes are given out to early-career researchers each year. Laureates attend a live televised award ceremony designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists. As part of the ceremony schedule, they also engage in a program of lectures and discussions.

The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. The Prizes have been sponsored by the personal foundations established by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Jack Ma, Yuri and Julia Milner and Anne Wojcicki. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates in each field choose the winners. Information on Breakthrough Prize is available at

About Khan Academy
Khan Academy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of providing a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy’s platform includes more than 70,000 practice problems, as well as videos and articles that cover a range of K–12 subjects. We offer Khan Academy Kids, an award-winning free app for children ages two to seven. Our learning system is mastery based, which allows students to master key concepts at a pace that’s right for them before moving on to more challenging content. We partner with school districts across the country and around the world that serve students who traditionally face barriers to academic success. In the United States, school districts use Khan Academy Districts and MAP Growth Accelerator to help teachers differentiate instruction. Nearly 20 million learners use Khan Academy every month in 190 countries and 46 languages. As a nonprofit, Khan Academy relies on donations from foundations, corporations and individuals around the world, as well as earned revenue. For more information, please see research findings about Khan Academy and our press page.

The Breakthrough Prize Lab for the winning student’s school is designed by and in partnership with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). Established in 1890, CSHL has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education. Its New York campus boasts 1100 faculty, students and employees and hosts over 12,000 visiting scientists each year for world-renowned conferences and courses. CSHL’s DNA Learning Center is the world’s largest provider of student lab instruction in molecular genetics and teacher training. Materials and methods developed by the DNA Learning Center are accessible for free through more than 20 award-winning educational websites. The Laboratory’s education arm also includes an academic publishing house, a science policy think tank and a graduate program in biological sciences. Visit

National Geographic Partners LLC
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 131 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers and reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information, visit or, or find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTubeLinkedIn and Pinterest.

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