A junior at Pleasant Valley High School is a finalist in an international science competition that helps people understand scientific concepts.

Himanshu Jangid, 16, of Bettendorf, is one of 15 finalists in the annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge competition. The Challenge was founded in 2015 and is a global science video contest where students develop and record engaging, imaginative videos that explain confusing scientific concepts and theories in physical or life sciences. The application period was about three months this year, from the beginning of April to the end of June. Entrants upload a video to YouTube and fill out an application. Out of thousands of entrants worldwide, Jangid found himself among 15 finalists, the first from Iowa. The winner is expected to be announced at the end of 2023 or early 2024. He is competing for $400,000 in prizes, including a college scholarship and a new science lab for his school.

CRISPR, pronounced “crisper”, stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and was the subject of Jangid’s video. “CRISPR is a genetic engineering technology. It was first discovered in bacteria and what it allows us to do is add DNA, edit DNA or remove DNA in organisms so we can have them express desirable traits. Let’s say you have a tomato plant right and it’s not exactly very resistant to droughts, but let’s say you have another tomato plant that is resistant to droughts. You can potentially take the drought-resistant gene from that tomato plant to the one that isn’t and then you have a tomato plant that is now drought resistant, but potentially also has other benefits that the last one shouldn’t have.”

The subject of the video is one he’s been interested in for a while “I was first introduced to CRISPR and gene editing in my ninth-grade honors biology class and so it always kind of stuck with me,” said Jangid. “I sat down to list all my video ideas; it was one of my ideas. Eventually, I just chose CRISPR because I thought it was really interesting and the potential future implications that it has.” Click here to see Jangid’s explanation of CRISPR and its uses.

Researching and recording the video helped solidify his future goals, he said. “I do see myself doing going into science and being a finalist, this is a big achievement for me and so I will definitely go into science. I’m planning on a science Bachelor of Science degree in an undecided major, but probably life sciences, biology, biochemistry, microbiology something like that at an undecided university. I also plan on doing medicine and then my longest-term goal is conducting scientific research and potentially a doctorate like a PhD.”

Jangid is excited about being a finalist, but he’s also thinking about the impact on his school. “The biggest thing about my project is that making it this far means a lot to me. If I end up winning it would mean a lot to my community. Part of the prize is a $100,000 science lab for my school and so if I do win then my school gets that really state-of-the-art science lab. If I do win this year, then that’s potentially something I will get to at least see if not actually use. It’ll impact many many many many high school students who have access to this awesome lab.”

Jangid is one of the founding members of Pleasant Valley High’s Cyber Security Club and is working on his black belt in Taekwondo.