Press Release

Breakthrough Prize Foundation Announces Student Winner of Fifth Annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge

By SpaceRef Editor
November 3, 2019
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The Breakthrough Prize today announced Jeffery Chen, 17, of Burlingame, California, as the winner of the fifth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video competition designed to inspire creative thinking about fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics.

Jeffery, his teacher and his school will share prizes worth a combined $400,000. Currently a senior at Burlingame High School, Jeffery will receive a $250,000 college scholarship. His science teacher, Heather Johnson, who sparked Jeffery’s interest in science, mentored him, and helped him launch an environmental science club, will win a $50,000 prize. Additionally, his school will receive a state-of-the-art science lab valued at $100,000.

Mesmerized by astronomy after visiting a planetarium in elementary school, Jeffery’s submission to the Breakthrough Junior Challenge explained the neutrino particle and its implications for astronomy – enabling astronomers to look at high energy cosmic events, gaze at the core of stars and even look at the universe moments after it began. Jeffery’s video can be viewed here, and other finalists’ submissions to the Challenge can be viewed at

Jeffery will be recognized tonight alongside some of the world’s top scientists and mathematicians as they are awarded the world’s largest annual science prize, the Breakthrough Prize. The ceremony will be broadcast live at 10pm ET/7pm PT on National Geographic in the United States. A taped one-hour version will air around the world later this year in 172 countries and in 43 languages.


“Science constantly evolves and gives us new perspectives on why the Universe behaves the way it does, and we’re fortunate to live in a time where the mysteries of the cosmos are being unlocked before our very eyes,” said Jeffery. “Yet, so many questions remain to be solved by our generation of scientists. The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is an amazing platform to spark interest in science and future discoveries.”


“Jeffery is a natural science communicator,” said Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, a partner of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. “He artfully explains a complex topic and makes it easier to understand. We’re proud to support Jeffery and all the other bright minds who participated in this year’s challenge.” 

Videos made by the Breakthrough Junior Challenge finalists were of such quality that they have been added to Khan Academy’s website as peer tutorials for the world.

“I was very impressed with Jeffery Chen’s grasp of the complex subject of neutrino astronomy and also with the way in which he was able to describe it for a general audience,” said Art McDonald,Breakthrough and Nobel Prize laureate for the discovery of neutrino oscillations. “Well done, Jeffery!”

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

Students from around the globe submitted their videos by June 15, 2019. After two rounds of judging — first, a mandatory peer review, followed by an evaluation panel of judges — the field was narrowed in September. The 30 semifinalists competed in a Popular Vote contest on the Breakthrough Prize Facebook page, where the public was invited to vote for their favorite semifinalist submission by “liking,” “sharing,” or posting a positive reaction. Collectively, during the 15-day contest, the 30 videos reached more than 500,000 people on the Breakthrough Prize Facebook page, helping to teach and inspire minds across the globe.

Branko Malaver-Vojvodic, 18, of Peru, was the top scorer in the “Popular Vote” contest, having received more than 16,000 likes, shares and positive reactions for his video on cryptography posted on the Breakthrough Facebook page. As the Popular Vote winner, Malaver-Vojvodic received automatic entry into the final round of judging.

Since its launch, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has reached 199 countries, and the 2019 installment of the global competition attracted more than 11,000 registrants.

The 2019 Breakthrough Junior Challenge Selection Committee included Salman Khan, founder and CEO, Khan Academy; Lucy Hawking, author and educator; Mae Jemison, science literacy expert, former astronaut, and principal, 100 Year Starship; Scott Kelly, retired NASA Astronaut; Ian Agol, professor of mathematics, University of California, Berkeley and Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics laureate; Rachel Crane, space and science correspondent, CNN; Huda Zoghbi, professor of pediatrics, neuroscience and human genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, and Breakthrough Prize laureate; Ijad Madisch, CEO, co-founder, ResearchGate; Pete Worden, chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation, executive director, Breakthrough Initiatives; Esther Wojcicki, founder, Palo Alto High Media Arts Center; and Terence Tao, professor of mathematics, UCLA and Breakthrough Prize laureate.

Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global initiative 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.

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Breakthrough Prize

For the eighth year, the Breakthrough Prizes will recognize the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics. 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 are sponsored by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates in each field choose the winners. Information on the Breakthrough Prize is available at


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 mastery learning system and content platform include thousands of exercises, videos and articles that cover a range of K–12 subjects, and they’re always free for teachers, students, parents and learners around the world. More than 18 million learners use Khan Academy every month. Two hundred thousand teachers use Khan Academy in their classrooms. Khan Academy relies upon donations from foundations, corporations and individuals around the world. For more information, please visit, and join us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.




For more information, including competition rules, video submission guidelines and queries, go to:


For press inquiries only, please contact:

Emily Gest, Direct: +212-843-8061

Kristen Bothwell, Direct: +212-843-9227

SpaceRef staff editor.