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Blue Valley High School student wins international science contest: 'I'll remember this forever'

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A teenage girl with dark, medium-length hair smiles into the camera
Abbas Haideri
Noor Haideri won top honors for her original science video titled "Melanopsin and ipRGCs." The video explores the impact blue light has on sleep.

Noor Haideri, a 16-year-old high school junior from Overland Park, won first prize and a $250,000 college scholarship from the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, for a science video she created about blue light and how it disrupts our sleep cycle.

Noor Haideri had no idea what was coming. The Blue Valley High School junior from Overland Park was told she’d be receiving an award at an assembly on February 2, but that was about all she knew.

“They call my name up and I think, ‘I'm going to be getting some different award,’” Haideri recalled on KCUR's Up To Date. “And then I find out that it's actually the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. It was one of the best surprises.”

Haideri is the 2022 winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an annual, global science video competition for high school students. Her video on the effect blue light has on sleep was selected from thousands of submissions by students from all across the globe.

Other finalists came from Croatia, Iraq, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Philippines.

In just 90 seconds, Haideri's video breaks down the science behind why phone and computer use before bed disrupts sleep quality.

Melanopsin and ipRGCs | Noor Haideri | Breakthrough Junior Challenge 2022

"So basically, in our eye, there's this protein called melanopsin," Haideri explained. "When blue light enters your eye it gets stimulated, and that sends a signal through the optic nerve to your brain to reduce the production of melatonin. And as we know, melatonin is what makes us go to sleep."

Haideri won a $250,000 college scholarship, which she said will go toward pursuing multiple doctorate's degrees.

The prize also includes installation of a new state-of-the-art science lab for Blue Valley High and $50,000 for her science teacher, Dianne Dunn.

"She challenges everybody to keep up with her," Dunn said. "She just has this quest for knowledge."

Blue Valley High School junior Noor Haideri and her teacher, Dianne Dunn, joined Up To Date to talk about Haideri's monumental win for both her and her school.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As Up To Date’s senior producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.
Claudia Brancart is an Up To Date producer for KCUR 89.3. She graduated from Pitzer College in Los Angeles where she majored in World Literature and Studio Art. You can reach her at claudiab@kcur.org.
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