Chandler teen named finalist in global science competition SanTan Sun News

Chandler teen named finalist in global science competition

Chandler teen named finalist in global science competition
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A Chandler teen has advanced through an international competition for aspiring filmmakers and science enthusiasts.

Abbie Jin, 17, was recently named one of 30 semifinalists out of a pool of 5,600 applicants from all over the world who are vying to win $400,000 for three-minute videos they produced themselves on the scientific topic of their own choosing.

The Hamilton High School senior developed a short film exploring the emerging research in RNA-based vaccines – a field of science that recently has received more attention as scientists scramble to produce a new vaccine to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Abbie said she had read about scientists struggling to quickly find a vaccine for the virus and was curious to learn more about the experimental RNA-based vaccines.

“I was really inspired to share more about this topic since it was so pertinent to our current situation,” she said.

Unlike modern vaccines, which inject an antigen into the human body to strengthen the immune system, a RNA-based vaccine provides genetic information that would instruct the body how to produce antigens naturally.

According to Harvard medical researchers, RNA-based vaccines are believed to offer a relatively simple and rapid solution to unpredictable, rapidly evolving pathogens.

There are many benefits to utilizing RNA-based vaccines compared to the traditional ones, Abbie noted, so she thought it seemed like a topic that warranted greater attention through the format of a three-minute web video.

Around the time the pandemic started shutting down schools back in March, a friend informed Abbie about an annual video competition hosted by the Breakthrough Prize, an organization co-founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, that allows students to creatively explain a scientific concept they’re passionate about.

Thousands of teenagers submit short science-themed videos to the Breakthrough Prize each year in an attempt to win $250,000 in scholarships. The competition’s sole victor also wins a state-of-the-art laboratory – valued at $100,000 – for their school and $50,000 for one of their teachers.

Abbie has already selected Tom McKinley, her calculus teacher at Hamilton High, to receive the cash prize if she’s selected as the competition’s top winner. McKinley is great at getting his students interested in mathematics and deserves to be recognized for his efforts, she said.

Abbie said she spent more than 100 hours researching, editing, animating and crafting together her video to complete in time by the competition’s deadline. It gave the high school student a chance to employ some newfound videography skills while learning more about a complex and timely medical issue.

“It not only combines my interests in science and art — it also was a really great opportunity for my school,” she said. 

The student said her school could receive a new science lab that she thinks could get more of her classmates enthused about physics, biology and chemistry.

“I think having a lab like this would be really beneficial to a lot of the students.” Abbie said.

The 30 semifinalists will have to endure more rounds of voting, evaluations and peer-to-peer assessments before qualifying for the competition’s finalist round that started Sept. 21.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s challenge included a special category for participants to submit videos exploring topics specifically tied to epidemiology and immunology.

“The quality of the videos this year is extremely high,” said Julia Milner, co-founder of the Breakthrough Prize. “It’s really thrilling to see young people communicating these big ideas with such intelligence, as well as freshness and creativity.”

Abbie, who is planning to study either business or bioscience in college next year, hopes all the videos submitted in this year’s competition will encourage her peers to continue their scientific endeavors and spark a greater dialogue about the value of studying STEM topics.

Even if her video doesn’t claim the grand prize, she hopes anyone who watches it will be inspired to learn more about how science can be relevant to their daily lives.

“I really wanted this video to bring encouragement through the form of education,” she said. “Science can help solve some of our biggest world issues.”

Jin’s video can be viewed on the Breakthrough Prize’s Facebook page.

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