Blue Valley student vying for $250K scholarship in global science contest

Blue Valley High School junior Noor Haideri is a finalist in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an annual, global science video competition sponsored by Khan Academy and National Geographic. Photo credit Nikki Lansford.

One Blue Valley High School student is vying for first place in a global competition aimed at inspiring young minds to think creatively about science.

Driving the news: Blue Valley junior Noor Haideri is one of 16 finalists worldwide in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a science video competition for high school students sponsored by online learning company Khan Academy and National Geographic.

  • Students ages 13 to 18 from countries across the globe are invited to create and submit short, original videos that bring to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics.
  • The submissions are then judged based on the student’s ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in engaging and creative ways.

The upshot: The first place winner takes home quite a prize: a $250,000 scholarship.

  • In addition, the winner’s teacher (nominated by the student) gets $50,000 and the student’s school wins a lab worth $100,000.

Background: This year is Haideri’s third time competing in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, which she first learned about through an email from Khan Academy when she was 12.

  • That year, she bookmarked it, since competitors have to be at least 13 years of age. The next year, which was also the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, she made her first video. (“I was at home and had a lot of time,” Haideri says.)
  • That first year she entered, Haideri’s submission made it to the top 10% out of 5,600 applicants.
  • Her next video from last year’s competition reached the top 5% out of about 3,400 applicants.
  • She said her love for science and the competition kept her coming back each year.

Key quote: “I learned a lot about animation that I really would not have learned without the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and it pushed me on the research side of things, as well,” Haideri said.

Blue Valley High junior Noor Haideri submitted video presentation about melanopsin for the 2022 Breakthrough Junior Challenge.
Blue Valley High junior Noor Haideri submitted a video presentation about melanopsin for the 2022 Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Image via Noor Haideri’s Youtube video.

Project details: For her project this year, Haideri submitted a video presentation about melanopsin, a protein in the eye that gets stimulated when exposed to blue light emitted by electronics.

  • “A signal is sent to your brain through the optic nerve that there’s blue light and that limits the release of melatonin,” she says in the video. “And that’s why you don’t feel asleep because the melatonin is limited.”
  • Haideri said she first stumbled across the topic while researching sleep health online, where she found a video about it from neuroscientist and Stanford professor Andrew Huberman.

Watch Haideri’s video for this year’s Breakthrough Junior Challenge 

What is next for Haideri and the Breakthrough Junior Challenge?

The winner of the 2022 Breakthrough Junior Challenge is expected to be announced in November.

  • Depending on the results, Haideri said she may or may not compete in the challenge again next year as a high school senior.
  • When looking to the future, she is interested in being a doctor with a dream to one day cure cancer.

Final word: “I really do enjoy the research, and I think being in the lab will be a lot of fun, but, at the same time, I also want to see patients and apply what I’m researching in the lab into that,” Haideri said.