Flint, MI—A love for science—and her grandmother—has led one Flint, Mich. resident to be among the best in an international science competition.

Lydia Taylor is competing for a $250,000 college scholarship through the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. She’s been selected as a finalist, putting her among the top 16 participants in the world.

Her entry, inspired by her grandmother’s battle with dementia, focuses on how abnormal brain proteins play a role in its development.

“I really wanted to do a topic that would help bring awareness to something that was important to me. And this topic is very important to me because I’ve met a lot of people who don’t think dementia is a real disease. They think it’s just old people being crazy,” Taylor said. “I was hoping if I could show them that there’s actually stuff going on inside their brain that’s not normal, that they’d understand. I guess just have more compassion towards people going through that.”

For the competition, open to youth ages 13-18 from all over the world, Participants submit a three-minute video explaining a concept or theory in the area of life sciences, physics, or mathematics. The videos go through a series of judging by a panel of experts in various fields.

YouTube video
Lydia, USA, Life Sciences, Finalist: 2021 Breakthrough Junior Challenge

Students are judged on how well they can communicate a complex scientific subject in a creative, interesting way.

Finally, a selection committee made up of astronauts, journalists, and professors select a winner.

Taylor graduated from Mott Middle College in spring of 2021. She now attends Central Michigan University where she is studying English and Geology.

Unlike many of her peers, she drives home to Flint most weekends to help her family take care of her grandmother and grandfather, who also has health concerns.

“Compared to some of my classmates, where they’re like, ‘Oh, why don’t you do this, this weekend?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I can’t because I have to take care of my grandparents,’” she said. “If I’m out all day, that means someone else in my family has to be taking care of them all day.”

Some days are easier than others. At times, her grandma will dance and sing around the house, but silliness can shift paranoia in an instant, Taylor said, recalling a time when her grandma thought she and her sister had kidnapped her.

Flint, Mich resident and Mott Middle College graduate Lydia Taylor, 19, poses for a photo at Elms Park in Swartz Creek, Mich. Taylor is a finalist in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an international youth science competition. The winner of the competition walks away with a $250,000 college scholarship. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Taylor’s experience as a caregiver has changed what she views as important in life.

“There’s a lot of things that we didn’t consider beforehand, having to take care of them full-time really switches that in your lifestyle,” Taylor said.

In addition to a $250,000 scholarship, the winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge can nominate a teacher for a $50,000 cash prize. Their high school will also receive a state-of-the-art science lab worth $100,000.

Taylor is nominating her mother, who homeschooled her and her three older siblings until they went to high school.  

The competition is organized by The Breakthrough Prize, a nonprofit that helps to fund the world’s top scientists. It was established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of 23 and Me Anne Wojcicki, Neurobiologist Cornelia I. Bargmann, and technology investor Yuri Milner.

The winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge will be announced in November.

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...