Chen wins international science video competition


Chen utilizes inventive editing to explain neutrino astrophysics.

Tekla Carlen and Caroline Yeow

Update: Senior Jeffery Chen won the Breakthrough Junior Challenge on Sunday, garnering $250,000 in college scholarship money. He accepted his award at the Breakthrough Prize Ceremony, which honors the year’s biggest achievers in mathematics, fundamental physics and life science. The event was held at NASA’s Hangar One in Mountain View. The prize’s founders include Mark Zuckerberg and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. Chen received his award from Milner’s wife, former model Julia Milner, and actress Taraji P. Henson, of “Hidden Figures” fame.

Chen first decided to enter the Breakthrough Junior Challenge last year after receiving an informational email from Khan Academy, one of the challenge’s partners. However, the judges disqualified his first entry due to a celebrity reference. He decided to try again this year, working intensively over two weeks to perfect his video about neutrinos.

“I became a much better communicator and filmmaker after the first year,” Chen said. “This year I learned from my mistakes and decided to make a video on a topic that’s a lot more interesting and easier to explain to an audience.”

Chen is not sure what caused his video to win, but he attributes part of its success to its artistic style and creative presentation of information. He began filmmaking in seventh grade when he moved to Burlingame from Illinois, and he also showed an early interest in writing. 

“When I was a kid in middle school, I wanted to write a book because I really liked telling stories,” Chen said. “I think I took that method of distributing information and put it in my video.”

Chen found out he won on Oct. 8 after previously being named a finalist, but he had to keep his achievement a secret until Sunday. Members of the Burlingame Environmental Club, of which he is the president, joined him onstage as he accepted the award.

“[Winning] was insane, and it was also really hard to keep it from my friends,” Chen said. “It was a little lonely not to tell anybody because I was also a little stressed about what happened next.”

In addition to Chen’s prize money, which can only be used for his postsecondary education, Burlingame will receive a new science lab worth $100,000. Teacher Heather Johnson, Chen’s advisor for the Burlingame Environmental Club, will receive $50,000 to use as she pleases. The lab’s construction should begin next year.

Although Chen’s video topic related to astronomy, he hopes to study environmental science in college.

“As much as I like astronomy and the question of what’s out there and what there is to discover, I think it’s really important that we protect our home first,” Chen said. “If we don’t protect what we have, what we could become in the future doesn’t really matter.”


Original Article: Senior Jeffery Chen’s entry for the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has placed in the finals. The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a video contest for teens, who must explain a complex math or science theory in a short video “that would take pages of text to communicate (Breakthrough Junior Challenge)”. 

Chen’s video, clocking in at 3 minutes (the maximum time allowed), explains the ins and outs of neutrino astronomy. 

“I picked neutrino astronomy, which is, like, this relatively new field of science, which basically is, like, a different way of observing the universe,” Chen said. “So instead of using light, like using telescopes … we instead detect these tiny particles that objects in the universe emit, especially super powerful objects like black holes, and we detect these particles, and [using] these particles, we can learn more about the objects they came from.”

It took Chen 94 hours to make the video during a period of 10 days. 

“It was definitely a lot of work in a short amount of time, but [I] managed to get it done … And I was afraid if I didn’t get it done, I’d just be disappointed in myself,” Chen said. 

Many of the video’s viewers commented on its inventive editing and animation.

“The explanation, animation, and the overall video were fantastic!,” fellow competitor Diya Naik wrote. 

Chen’s video, along with 15 others, was placed in the popular voting process before moving onto the finals. The popular vote winner, Branko Malaver-Vojvodic of Peru, will receive automatic entry into the final round of judging. The winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge will be announced from the Breakthrough Prize ceremony in Silicon Valley on Nov. 3, 2019.