Two North Texas Students Reach Semifinal Round of Breakthrough Junior Challenge

This global video competition invites talented teenagers from around the world to create STEM-related videos for the chance to win $400,000. DFW's own Shruti Siva and Hasith Vattikuti are two of 30 semifinalists who made it to the "Popular Vote" stage of the challenge.

Teenagers from around the world participate in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge each year by creating original videos on topics in life sciences, physics, and math in interesting ways. For the competition’s fifth year, Shruti Siva and Hasith Vattikuti are the only semifinalists from North Texas, while only about half of the semifinalists are from the United States.

Siva and Vattikuti are two of 30 semifinalists competing in the “Popular Vote” stage of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Whoever’s video gets the highest amount of votes in this stage—meaning the most likes, shares, and reactions on the Breakthrough Facebook page—skips the selection committee stage and automatically becomes a finalist in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Even if a contestant doesn’t receive the most votes, they can still be a regional champion.

Want to cast a vote? You can do so by going here.

To get to this stage, the semifinalists had to make original videos on their own, which can last up to three minutes long. The submissions are judged on how well the participant is able to communicate a scientific concept, theory, or principle in “engaging, illuminative, and imaginative ways.”

Last year, over 12,000 people registered for the challenge, which means that getting to the semifinals is no easy feat.

The overall winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge will receive a $250,000 college scholarship and a $50,000 prize for their math or science teacher. Plus, the winner’s school will get a Breakthrough Science Lab valued at $100,000.

The challenge is organized by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and has partnerships with Khan Academy, National Geographic Partners LLC, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“Young people remind us to stay curious about the world around us,” Salman Khan, Khan Academy’s founder and CEO, said in a statement. “The Breakthrough Junior Challenge encourages young people to dive into that curiosity, create something meaningful and develop a lifelong love of learning.”

All votes must be cast by Sept. 20 and the following day, the 15 finalists and the “Popular Vote” winner are expected to be announced. 

One overall winner will be chosen from those finalists by a selection committee comprised of judges including two former astronauts, Scott Kelly and Dr. Mae Jemison; Salman Khan, the founder and CEO of Khan Academy; Lucy Hawking, an author and educator; among others. The winner is expected to be announced on Nov. 3.

Meet DFW’s two semifinalists

Siva, a 15-year-old who goes to school in Addison, made her Breakthrough Junior Challenge video entry on time travel. You can read about her challenge story here.

[Image: Courtesy Shruti Siva via YouTube]


Vattikuti, a 15-year-old from Flower Mound, made his Breakthrough Junior Challenge video entry on black holes. You can read about his challenge story here.

[Image: Courtesy Hasith Vattikuti via YouTube]

Update: Both Siva and Vattikuti have advanced to the final round of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge.

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