ROXBURY, NJ – A college student from Parsippany-Troy Hills is one of 30 semifinalists from around the world competing for $400,000 in prizes as part of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video contest.

The student, Ria Balli, is attending Carnegie Mellon University, having graduated from The Academy for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at Morris Hills High School.

She and the other students competing in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge were tasked to submit engaging, imaginative (and sometimes humorous) videos to demonstrate difficult scientific concepts and theories in the physical or life sciences. The Challenge is presented by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The finalists’ videos, including Balli’s, are on Facebook and the public can vote for a "people’s choice" winner between now and Sept. 20. To view and vote for Balli's video, click here.

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.

Balli became interested in machine learning while in high school. When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Balli realized that data about patients and COVID-19 ties into the process of machine learning as it stems from making predictions and decisions.

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 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.