The call for Kid Reporter applications is now open! Click here to learn more.

Middle School Students Win Science Fair Prizes

Elise with her sister Clara Choi, who took home second prize in the engineering category of the Broadcom competition. 

On October 28, the Broadcom Foundation and the Society for Science awarded $100,000 in prizes in the Broadcom MASTERS science competition. The 30 finalists were selected from a pool of 1,841 nominees across the country. The nominees were middle schools students who had finished in the top 10% of their local and regional science fairs. 

In a typical year, the finalists would have traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the national competition. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the students competed virtually. They used laptops, iPads, Raspberry Pis, and cameras provided by the sponsors. Over the course of five days, the students were judged on their individual science projects and their performance in team challenges. 


Elise interviews Maya Ajmera, the president and chief executive officer of the Society for Science and the publisher of Science News.


Akilan Sankaran, 14, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, won the top award, the Samueli Foundation Prize, which is worth $25,000. His winning math project uncovered an efficient formula to find highly divisible numbers that contain very few prime numbers. 

“My project is important because it shows the power of mathematics,” Akilan said. “You can calculate these numbers that are super big in 15 seconds, whereas if you didn’t use math, it would take many, many years.” 

The Society for Science is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and research.

“You don’t learn science by reading it,” said Maya Ajmera, the organization’s president and chief executive officer. “You learn science by doing it. Science competitions are important because they give students the opportunity to innovate and solve the world’s most intractable problems.”



Despite working online, students were able to bond with each other through various social activities. The activities included an escape room, a talent show, and a paint night.

My sister, Clara Choi, 14, was a finalist in the competition. “I was amazed at how quickly we all became good friends,” she said. “I think it’s because we were sharing the most exciting and intellectually-challenging experience of our lives.” 

Ajmera said that such competitions “are important in building a community of like-minded young people who care about the same things.” Again and again, she hears students say, “I found my people!” 


Photos courtesy of the author