BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater-Raritan High School senior Navya Sinha is one of 30 semifinalists from over 10,000 submissions around the world in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video contest – the prize for the winner includes a $250,000 scholarship.
“This is so hard to believe,” she said, “and it’s really exciting, an experience I’ve never had before.”
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is designed to inspire fresh, creative explanations of fundamental concepts in life sciences, physics and mathematics. This year, participants had to make a three-minute video explaining a math or science theory, with topics ranging from quantum tunneling and the mystery of dark matter to the structure of the COVID-19 virus.
The top 30 semifinalists, including Sinha, hail from all over the world, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Egypt, Korea, India, Indonesia, Italy, Morocco, Romania, Philippines, the U.K. and Venezuela.
“There were two rounds, and first there were over 10,000 submissions,” Sinha said. “It went down to 70 after a peer review, where we had to watch a lot of videos and rate them in creativity, clarity, difficulty of topic and how engaging it was.”
At this point, the competition has entered the popular vote stage, where the videos are posted to the competition’s Facebook page, and people are invited to vote for their favorite.
The video with the highest number of combined likes, positive reactions and shares (all counted separately), as of the deadline at Sept. 20 at 11:59 p.m., will be declared the top scorer, and automatically proceed to the final round of the competition, bypassing the next round of judging and entering the running for overall winner.
“A like and a share will count as two separate votes,” Sinha said.
The 15 finalists and the top scorer in the popular vote will be revealed Sept. 21, with those videos to then be reviewed by a selection committee, until a final winner is chosen.
The winner of the challenge will be awarded a $250,000 college scholarship, and the winner’s school will receive a state-of-the-art science lab, valued at $100,000. In addition, the science teacher who inspired the winning student will win a $50,000 prize.
“This prize can influence a lot of people in our community,” Sinha said.
Sinha said she can’t believe how far she has gotten in the competition, following the thousands of submissions.
“I got the email that said congratulations, my video scored highly, and I figured I was in the top 70,” she said. “I later found out I was in the top 30. It was so hard to believe.”
“It took me a couple days to actually process how important this really was,” she added. “The other competitors are so amazing, I watched all of their videos. The competition is tough, and it’s all a matter of luck at this point because they are all so amazing.”
Sinha said she found out about this competition while she was studying for her advanced placement biology test last school year. She said she watched the video from a past winner, who had made one about antibacterial resistance.
“It was funny and engaging and informative,” she said. “And she explained in five minutes something that I didn’t understand after hours with my textbook. I was inspired by her and the way she was able to engage me and connect with her audience.”
In March, Sinha said, she was scrolling through all the videos, and they were all so incredible.
“The animation was professional and funny, and they taught me so much about topics I didn’t know about,” she said.
Sinha said she wanted to participate but she was nervous because it was a huge deal to possibly win, and because she had never done any video editing before.
“It was scary, and I didn’t know if I could make a good video,” she said. “But 10 days before the deadline, I got an advertisement about the challenge. I didn’t have a lot to do, and it seemed like so much fun, being creative and expressing ideas in a fun way.”
“These people inspired me to love science and be excited about it, so I wanted to do the same for other students,” she added.
Sinha said she decided to participate, with only 10 days to spare.Her topic, Sinha said, was about why humans like music. She said she plays the violin, so she always questioned why she felt the music when playing it, and why she feels sad when listening to some composers and happy listening to others.
“I wanted to explore it more, and this was a great opportunity to do it,” she said, “and to have fun and inspire other kids.”
To prepare, Sinha read research papers, watched TED talks and did other studying to get the information she needed. She said she looked at studies of music on the brain, and receptors in the brain that lead to different reactions.
From there, Sinha said, she started scripting the video.
“I thought it would be interesting to combine the physics and biology behind music because it is not just about the brain, it is about sound waves and why melodies and harmonies sound good together,” she said. “I explore in the video that frequencies connect to the way neurons fire, and something what sounds good has a pattern to the wave when it is combined.”
Sinha said she combined it with the idea of dopamine, explaining that people actually get a natural rush of dopamine when they listen to music, with the amount of the hormone being released connected to different parts of a song.
Then, Sinha said, she tied it back to medicine, and the idea of using music as therapy.
“It was hard to put all this in a script that would run for three minutes,” she said.
Sinha said she then moved on to the filming process, which was tough because she had never done animations and other film editing work.
“I used my own actions and facial expressions, and ended up playing violin in the middle to illustrate the concept,” she said. “I was able to animate myself.”
Sinha said she finished the video the day before it was due.
If she were to win, Sinha said, she would be able to use the scholarship for college where she hopes to do medical research and look for better treatments for neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s or ALS. She said her dream school would be Harvard University.
Sinha said she is also excited about the $100,000 prize for a science lab.
“I thought that would be a great way to give back to BRHS, which has taught me so much,” she said. “I am thinking the lab could be used to allow students interested in STEM to start researching at an early age without waiting until college to get an innovative experience.”
“I found high school very textbook, but having some kind of lab where students can research what they are interested in and be creative at an earlier age would help them get more inspired and interested in science and math,” she added.
Sinha said her classes at BRHS helped increase her passion and love for the STEM field, which ultimately convinced her to participate in the competition.
“I was so in love with my classes, I decided to participate in something also STEM related,” she said.
SInha said she is so proud and excited to take part in the competition.
“It was really rewarding, the whole process, because I was able to explore an idea that I’d always wondered, but had never actually been able to organize and truly understand,” she said.
To view and vote for Sinha’s video (or any other videos), click here.