BREAKTHROUGH PRIZE FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES STUDENT WINNER OF NINTH ANNUAL BREAKTHROUGH JUNIOR CHALLENGE SCIENCE VIDEO COMPETITION

Sia Godika, 17, of Bangalore, India, Receives Top Honors and $400,000 in Education Prizes for Original Video on Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells that “Turn Back the Clock” on Cellular Aging

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 7, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — The Breakthrough Prize Foundation today announced Sia Godika, 17, a senior at Neev Academy, an international school in Bangalore, India, as winner of the ninth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video competition designed to inspire creative thinking and communications skills around fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics.

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge will award a total of $400,000 in educational prizes for Sia, her science teacher, and her school. Sia, who plans to attend university in the United States after she graduates high school this year, will receive a $250,000 college scholarship. Her inspirational teacher, Arka Moulik, will receive a $50,000 prize. The prize also includes a state-of-the-art science lab designed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory valued at $100,000.

Sia was informed of her win by her older brother Samay Godika, who is himself a previous winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, topping the competition with his original video on circadian rhythms. Having watched him receive the prize six years ago, Sia will now be honored alongside the 2024 Breakthrough Prize laureates at a ceremony in Los Angeles this spring.

“This is such an unbelievable honor, and I am so grateful,” said Sia. “My grandparents are battling cancer and age-related neurological disorders. I wanted to learn everything I could about the latest science to help in finding cures. Reversing cellular aging can proactively prevent several debilitating diseases. I’m determined to contribute to research that can make this future a reality.”

“Well done to Sia for her brilliant and dramatic film about one of the most promising discoveries in modern biology,” said Breakthrough Prize co-founder, Julia Milner. “I am excited that the Breakthrough Junior Challenge is reaching young people around the world, helping them to grow as scientists and share the wonders of science with their peers.”

Sia’s submission is titled Yamanaka Factors, and explores discoveries made by 2013 Breakthrough Prize winner and Nobelist, Shinya Yamanaka. He identified gene transcription factors that “turn back the clock” on adult cells and restore them to their original youthful, undifferentiated state. Yamanaka’s discovery of these induced pluripotent stem cells has profound implications for the treatment of degenerative diseases. In her video, which can be viewed here, Sia appears as an elderly woman who sheds her age to become an exuberant teenager once again.  

Yamanaka commented, “It’s exciting to see a talented young student finding out about my work and explaining it to others in such a clear and creative way. My congratulations to Sia, and I hope she continues her journey in the life sciences, where so much waits to be discovered.”

Since its launch in 2015, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has received 25,000 submissions from more than 200 countries. This year’s installment attracted more than 2,400 applicants.

“Sia’s video submission is a brilliant, funny and visually creative rendition of a sophisticated, recent discovery in genetics that has profoundly impacted the biological sciences,” said Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy.  “I am heartened and inspired that through this Challenge, we are growing the next generation of powerful science communicators.”

This year, more than 2,400 students from 100+ countries submitted videos by June 25, 2023. After two rounds of judging – first, a mandatory peer review, followed by an evaluation panel – the field was narrowed in September to 30 semifinalists. These 30 competed in a Popular Vote 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 and YouTube pages helping to teach and inspire minds across the globe.

The 15 finalist videos were reviewed by the Selection Committee, comprising distinguished scientists including: Ian Agol, professor of mathematics, University of California, Berkeley, and Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics laureate; Rachel Crane, space and science correspondent, CNN; Pascale Ehrenfreund, president, International Space University; former NASA astronaut and administrator, John GrunsfeldMae Jemison, science literacy expert, former astronaut, and principal, 100 Year Starship; Jeffery Kelly, professor of chemistry, Scripps Research Institute and Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences laureate; retired NASA astronaut Scott KellySalman Khan, founder and CEO, Khan Academy; Ijad Madisch, co-founder and CEO, ResearchGate; NASA astronaut Nicole Stott; Andrew Strominger, professor of physics, Harvard University, and Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics laureate; Terence Tao, UCLA professor and Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics laureate; Esther Wojcicki, founder, Palo Alto High Media Arts Center; Pete Worden, chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation and executive director, Breakthrough Initiatives.

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. For the ninth year, students ages 13-18 from around the world created original videos (up to two- minutes in length) that illustrate a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics.

Submissions for the 2024 Breakthrough Challenge open on April 1.

PARTNERS

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge, founded by Julia and Yuri Milner, is a global science video competition, aiming to develop and demonstrate young people’s knowledge of science and scientific principles and communications skills; 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.

The Breakthrough Prize

The Breakthrough Prize, renowned as the “Oscars of Science,” recognizes the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics (one per year) and Mathematics (one per year). In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics Prizes, up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes and up to three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes are given out to early-career researchers each year. Laureates attend a gala award ceremony designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists.

The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. The Prizes have been sponsored by the personal foundations established by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri 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 breakthroughprize.org.

About 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 is piloting an AI guide called Khanmigo that is a tutor and teaching assistant. Khanmigo is integrated into a platform that includes practice problems, videos and articles that cover a range of subjects. Khan Academy’s free app for young children ages two to eight is Khan Academy Kids. The organization partners with school districts across the country that serve students who are historically under-resourced. Districts use Khan Academy Districts, MAP Accelerator and Khan Academy Kids to help teachers differentiate instruction. Worldwide, more than 160 million registered learners have used Khan Academy in 190 countries and 51 languages. For more information, please see research findings about Khan Academy and our press center.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL)

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 www.cshl.edu.

CONTACT:

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

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