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10 Tips to Help You Win the 3M Young Scientist Challenge

Ever felt like there was an easier, more efficient, and energy-saving way to solve a global problem? If you have an idea that could propel change at an international level, 3M wants to know! 

3M, the multinational conglomerate specializing in consumer goods, healthcare, and safety,  organizes the annual Young Scientist Challenge to encourage middle school students to innovate and come up with an idea that can make the world a smarter, safer, and better place. 

For high school students such as yourself, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a sound way to gain a deeper understanding of concepts in robotics, electronics, home improvement, automobiles, AR/VR, climate tech, and more. Not to mention, reaching the finals and winning a national competition is quite prestigious. It will add immense value to your CV and highlight your skills as one of the U.S.’s best young innovators! 

If this challenge sounds like something you would be interested in, read this blog to learn more, including our top tips to ace the competition:

What is the 3M Young Scientist Challenge all about?

Organized by 3M’s Young Scientist Lab, which encourages young learners to pursue careers in STEM, the Young Scientist Challenge is an annual project-based competition for middle school students to find innovative solutions to everyday problems. To participate, students record and submit a 1-2 minute video detailing the problem and how their intervention could help. The issue chosen could be something that affects a student’s family, local community, or the global population. 

Who is eligible to participate?

The challenge is open to all students in grades 5-8 who are U.S. residents. 

How is the challenge structured?

To enter the program, you have to film and submit a 1-2 minute video about a problem, its impact on everyday life, and how your innovation could be an effective solution. Entry topics cover robotics, home improvement, automobiles, safety, AR/VR, and climate tech. Inventions by previous Young Scientist alumni include programming robots to mimic swarm intelligence for applications in healthcare and agriculture, a toilet-flushing system using grey and fresh water, car temperature sensors that link to your mobile phone, lead contamination detectors in water, using depth cameras and audio cues to help visually impaired people navigate, and wind turbines inspired by hurricane formations. Videos must be submitted individually. You cannot work in a group for this competition. 

The top 10 videos make it to the finals. Videos are judged based on creativity (30%), scientific knowledge (30%), persuasion and communication skills (20%), and overall presentation (20%). The top 10 finalists participate in a summer mentorship program where 3M scientists oversee their work while they develop their project ideas. 

In the Final Event, which takes place in October, students present the work completed during the summer mentorship and participate in STEM-based challenges to score points and be crowned the winner.  

What prizes does 3M offer?

Prizes for the Young Scientist Challenge are as follows:

  • The national winner is honored with the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” and receives a $25,000 cash prize. 

  • Two runner-ups receive $2,000 for an adventure of their choice. 

  • The top 10 finalists receive $1,000 and participate in a summer mentorship program where they work on their innovation with 3M scientists.

  • State Merit Winners (up to 51) receive a 3M prize pack

  • Honorable mentions (up to 4) get a certificate and a bag  

What are the important dates?

The timeline for the 2024 challenge was as follows:

  • January 4: Challenge opens

  • May 2: Challenge shuts

  • June: Finalists and state merit winners are announced

  • October: Final event, followed by the crowning of “America’s Top Young Scientist”

Applications for the 2024 challenge have closed. The 2025 edition will likely follow a similar schedule. You can stay updated on the program website here.

Is the challenge prestigious?

Yes, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is highly selective and prestigious. Thousands of students apply nationwide to make the top 10. The competition’s winner receives $25,000.

Interested in Applying? Here are some tips to prepare you for the Young Scientist Challenge:

  1. Find a topical issue to solve The challenge tests your innovation to solve an everyday problem within the topic areas of robotics, climate and tech, AR/VR, automobiles, home improvement, and safety. Previous years’ finalists created and developed projects that tackled water contamination, power generation from car tires, machine learning headsets that treated ear infections, and more. 

  2. Be innovative The 3M Young Scientist Challenge is looking for out-of-the-box solutions to everyday problems that make people say “I didn’t think of that!” Experiment and try different solutions to a problem to see what fits best.

  3. Start prep early While you have months to submit your video, we recommend you begin ideating as early as possible (maybe even now!) Thinking of a viable topic can take time — projects undertaken by previous years' finalists and winners were complex and likely required months of planning and iterations.  

  4. Improve your presentation and communication skills Your ability to be persuasive and overall communication and presentation skills make up 40% of your video’s scoring. Spend time familiarizing yourself with the subject matter, maintain proper body language, and use formal yet engaging language! A good tip is to imagine yourself presenting to fellow students. You don’t want to use too much jargon. Structure your presentation well with a well-defined introduction, body, and conclusion, and take strategic pauses while speaking. 

  5. Find a mentor While the Young Scientist Challenge is an individual competition, you can find an adult mentor who can guide and help you develop your proposal. They can be a STEM teacher at school, counselor, or even a working professional you know. Ask questions and get all the guidance you need.

  6. Review alumni projects The 3M Young Scientist Lab gives you access to presentations made by previous years’ winners, finalists, and state merit champions. You can review these presentations to know more about the kind of projects undertaken, the level of detail provided, topics covered, and delivery. You can access the presentations here.

  7. Connect with alumni The program’s website lists previous years’ finalists and winners, along with information on their region and school. If needed, you can connect with them via platforms like LinkedIn to learn more about their experience in the competition and obtain their feedback on your project idea. 

  8. Storyboard Write down the main points of your idea and draft a script for your video. Plan what aspect of the project you will discuss in each scene so the final video comes together smoothly. 

  9. Get feedback Once you’ve recorded your video, share it with family, friends, and teachers. Do they understand the subject matter? Are you communicating clearly and effectively? These are some potential issues you can troubleshoot at this stage.

  10. Practice being interviewed The Final includes presenting the project you worked on during the summer. Judges will ask you in-depth questions about your work — be well prepared and make sure you know your subject matter thoroughly. Stage mock interviews simulate final-like conditions.

One Other Option — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’d like to participate in a rigorous research program open to high schoolers, you may want to consider the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!

Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India.

Image Source: 3M logo



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