Noor Haideri Wins Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Junior Challenge 2022

March 23, 2023 by No Comments

Once again, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge has announced its annual winner and awarded its three high-value prizes, which are possible thanks to Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge. Since joining the Giving Pledge in 2012 to support the future of science, Yuri Milner has co-founded and funded a host of programs and enterprises, of which the Breakthrough Junior Challenge is just one.

Thanks to Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge commitment, this year, Noor Haideri, from Blue Valley High School in Kansas, has won a $250,000 college scholarship, $50,000 for a teacher who inspired her, and a $100,000 science lab for the school.

“What Noor has done is left a mark on our school that’s going to be here longer than I am,” Dr. Charles Golden, Haideri’s school principal said. “I think students coming through this school are going to hear her story, and they’re going to understand what she did and what it’s achieved for all of us… That kind of inspiration goes for miles.”

Noor Haideri: The 2022 Breakthrough Junior Challenge Winner

Haideri has won the 2022 prize for her short, informative video on how melanopsin and intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) impact the sleep-wake cycle.

When light enters the eye, the rod and cone cells in the retina convert whatever the person sees into electrical signals. ipRGCs (1% of which contain a protein called melanopsin) and the optic nerve direct these signals to the brain. The melanopsin then helps the brain release a hormone called melatonin that assists with sleep.

If the person has been looking at blue light, which electronic devices emit, the brain will release less of this hormone. This is why looking at screens before bed can make it harder to sleep.

Haideri explains how people who have vision impairments maintain sleep-wake cycles, noting that light reaches the retina even if the individual has a vision impairment. As a result, their ipRGCs still register light and, by extension, control the release of melatonin.

Breakthrough Junior Challenge 2022 Finalists

The standard of Breakthrough Junior Challenge entries was as high as ever, with young people aged 13-18 covering complex topics and presenting these in creative, fun ways to be in with a chance of winning the Giving Pledge signatory’s global competition.

The 2022 finalists include:

  • Ema Donev, age 14, from Croatia, who created a video on life and entropy. In her video, she explains the basic constituents of our cells (DNA and RNA) and the rare likelihood of these forming. She goes on to explore life as an example of decreased entropy and query why this clashes with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy in the Universe should increase.
  • Armani Adams, age 17, from Trinidad and Tobago, who created a video about what light is made of. In his video, he explains that, under the right conditions, an electron can absorb or release kinetic energy. The energy particles that electrons absorb or release are called photons. As photons don’t have any mass, they can travel through space as electric fields and magnetic fields, creating incredibly fast-moving electromagnetic waves. The more energy a photon has, the shorter the length of its wave, creating different light waves in the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Weber Lin, age 17, from the U.S., who created a video about chirality. In his video, he explains that something is chiral if it isn’t identical to its mirror image, and we, therefore, can’t superimpose the two items. Lots of biological processes require a perfect fit between two complementary proteins. Rather than randomly pairing proteins, we must pair matching proteins to ensure a 100% success rate. Lin explains how we can use chirality in several applications, from solving crime to enhancing movies.

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