ITHACA, NY -- Cornell University freshman Ellen Jannereth is in the running to win $400,000 worth of prizes via the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. The challenge is an annual global competition for students to “inspire creative thinking about science.” It’s open to students ages 13-18 from countries across the globe. Participating students have to create and submit original videos (up to three minutes in length) that “bring to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics.” The submissions are then judged on the ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in engaging, illuminating and imaginative ways.

Jannereth chose quantum tunneling in physics for her topic after “stumbling across” the competition online.

“It sounded really interesting to participate in, and I had a lot of fun making it,” she said of the video.

Jannereth, a physics major at Cornell, decided to go with her topic after falling in love with quantum physics through watching “Fabric of the Cosmos,” a series based on a book of the same name by renowned physicist (and former Cornell professor) Brian Greene.

“In middle school I was obsessed with Brian Greene’s ‘Fabric of the Cosmos,’” Jannereth said. “Quantum physics as a whole I find super interesting because it’s so far removed from our everyday reality. Really weird things happen in quantum physics that make zero sense, so it’s really interesting to think about how it works.”

She said that when she learned about quantum tunneling in her high school physics class it piqued her interest and she wanted to learn more about it. Her video explains in simplest terms that quantum tunneling is the phenomenon where a wavefunction can move through a potential barrier.

“The math is extremely complicated,” she said. “But just to boil it down to simple concepts was my goal.”

Her video, which she said she had to learn how to use Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects to make, has made it to the top 30 entries worldwide. The first round of judging is based on peer-to-peer review. Every competitor is required to watch at least five of their peers’ videos and rank them according to the criteria, which include engagement, difficulty of the concept and creativity. The videos that are scored the highest make it to the top 30.

Now, there’s a popular vote going on until Sept. 20. Whichever video gets the most likes, comments and positive reactions gets to bypass the next round of judging.

“It’s surreal to get this far,” she said. “It’s been a really great opportunity.”?

The winner of the competition will receive $250,000 for a post-secondary scholarship, $50,000 for their teacher and $100,000 for a Breakthrough Science lab for their high school.

The final winner will be announced in November, but for now you can support Jannereth by liking or commenting on her video on the Breakthrough Junior Challenge’s Facebook page:


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