The Breakthrough Prize program, founded in 2012 by Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcikci, Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg, among others, was created to give scientists the rock-star treatment. The organization's annual award ceremony, held last night in Mountain View, Calif., did not disappoint.
Over the course of an evening that included food by French Laundry chef Thomas Keller and a performance by Pharrell Williams, a total of $21.9 million was handed out in prizes. The recipients included an evolutionary geneticist, a mathematician, an Alzheimer's researcher and – a high school student.
Ryan Chester, 18, is a senior at North Royalton High School in Ohio. He's also the winner of the inaugural Breakthrough Junior Challenge, funded in part by a grant from Zuckerberg, which asks young people between the ages of 13 and 18 to create short videos that communicate big ideas in life sciences, physics and math.
Chester's submission – a 7 minute video that breaks down Einstein's theory of Special Relativity – beat out more than 2,000 applications from 86 countries.
The video is low-key, humorous and, for such a complex theory, (relatively) easy to follow. Set in and around a suburban backyard, it illustrates why space travelers experience time more slowly than we do back on earth with the help of a bowl of popcorn, a minivan, homegrown special effects and a hand-drawn diagrams.
As a Breakthrough Prize winner, Chester receives $250,000 in educational prizes. Meanwhile, an award of $50,000 goes to his science teacher and $100,000 goes to his school so that it can build a custom science lab.
Like most seniors, Chester is thinking about where he wants to go to college. Winning the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has significantly increased his options.
“I’m looking at colleges that have a great film school program as well as science," he told USA Today. “I was looking at Ohio University, so I could maybe get a scholarship and not have crazy student loans. But now I’m looking at NYU and Northwestern. I guess everything’s open to me now.”
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