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The Adventures of the Nutritional Kingdom Project

Winner of the Junior Academy Challenge – Spring 2023 “Healthy Snacks”

Team members: Natalie O. (Team Lead) (United States), Lara K. (Jordan), Connie H. (United States), Mariem M. (Egypt), Ibrahim S. (United States), Amena S. (Jordan)

Mentor: Leticia Mendoza-Martínez (Mexico)

Childhood obesity has become a major public health issue around the world. In the United States alone, 1 in 5 children is overweight or obese– a particularly prevalent issue in the Hispanic community, where lack of access to affordable, healthy food along with other socioeconomic factors create major disadvantages. For the Junior Academy’s 2023 Spring Innovation Challenge on “Healthy Snacks”, six students formed an international team to develop “The Adventures of the Nutritional Kingdom”– a campaign to encourage healthy eating aimed specifically at Hispanic children in the southern U.S. Collaborating across continents and time zones, the students met online to create the winning project. “Cooperation enhances the goal because when a group from different countries of the world gathers to work on one goal, this undoubtedly confirms its importance,” Meriem says.

According to the CDC, 26.2% of Hispanic youth are obese. Childhood obesity can have broad consequences, from long-term health implications like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, to psychological impacts like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, (often related to bullying). Before devising their solution, the team conducted a survey of Hispanic families in both Spanish and English to help them identify a novel approach. Natalie assumed the role of Team Lead. “I was in charge of overseeing everyone’s collaboration efforts, notifying team members of their weekly tasks, and was the head website developer for the team. It was a surreal experience being a leader of such intelligent and motivated students. Our ideas were productive, and our final results are absolutely spectacular,” she says. “I learned valuable leadership and time management skills that will help me in future years to come.”

To reach the target audience, the team created an interactive, kid-friendly website with a vibrant jungle theme and gender-neutral animal characters, as well as a series of articles providing useful information on healthy nutrition and eating disorders. They also explored recipes, recreating a popular snack using alternative, healthier ingredients, and created an app with 13 different games that incorporated important nutritional information.

Meriem worked for hours on developing the games, using vivid colors attractive to young users. “I contributed by writing four articles on healthy eating habits and summarizing the problem and background of our solution,” explains Connie. “I also researched (former First Lady) Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, alternatives to unhealthy snacks and previous initiatives introducing healthy snacks.” Ibrahim conducted research and contributed extensive data on physical exercise and hydration. “I read articles and answered questions such as how people got their nutrients during the Great Depression, foods that can be cooked at low temperatures as well as foods that keep hydration in your body and more,” he says. Among her many contributions, Amena focused on how to reach the target audience for the app. “I provided my knowledge and skills in business and marketing the product to help us reach children, whether they were high or low-income children, as well as designing the product’s packaging,” she explains.

The team is excited to see their carefully considered, multi-faceted project create social impact, hoping to find ways to even further reduce mental stress and health problems among Hispanic children. In particular, they want to make their website available in Spanish as well as English to expand its reach. “This experience has fostered a deeper understanding of the power of teamwork and its capacity for optimizing collaborative efforts between human agents,” says Lara. “Future pursuits will undoubtedly involve enhanced focus on cooperation among individuals to promote more effective outcomes.”

The Junior Academy was supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute.

Circular Textiles


Textiles play a vital role in our lives from our clothes, to our homes to everyday products in the background of our TikTok feed. But how often do we think about those textiles – who made them? How are they made? How do they get from the raw materials to our hands? 

The vast majority of textiles have a linear path – raw materials are made into textiles and then go from the sales rack to the landfill. With the rise of fast fashion and other rapid textile production in different industries, there is an urgent need and business opportunities for innovative, sustainable, and circular flow of textiles within the supply chain. How can we draw upon the concepts of a circular economy and inject innovative approaches to sustainable and circular practices within the textile supply chain. 



Eligibility: Open to all students ages 13-17 in the Junior Academy.  

From watches to implants to sensor-enabled clothes, tiny, “wearable” microprocessors are all around us both in consumer and industrial uses. With the explosion of the Internet of Things (IOT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the current and near-future possibilities for wearable technology are only limited by our imagination. Used widely and connected in a network, wearables hold the potential to be powerful tools for responding to some of the world’s trickiest issues.

How could you use today’s wearable devices, or design new wearable technology, to address challenging issues in disaster management or non-communicable diseases?

Innovation Challenges

For over a decade, the Academy has worked with partners across industry, academia, and government to offer Innovation Challenges, virtual competitions that engage student innovators to apply their curiosity and creativity to solve real-world problems. Using the Academy’s unique online platform, Launchpad, participants collaborate on project-based activities while spanning time zones and cultures. Browse our current Innovation Challenges as well as past Challenges here.

Active Challenges

Previous Challenges with Resources

From the Academy Blog

An inside look at our innovation challenges teams and their impressive accomplishments.

IoT Smart Homes Challenge


In a two-year partnership with the Ericsson-created Center of Excellence (CoE), the Academy invited Omani youth to join the Junior Academy and participate in a series of Internet of Things (IoT) challenges and activities. Students and mentors from Omani industry and academia will participate in Challenges around the topic of ‘Internet of Things’ which will offer you opportunities to innovate and learn with peers and mentors around the globe.

The Challenge

Design a smart home that integrates technology which collects, processes, and stores environmental and health information. The smart home you design should be sustainable and provide suitable feedback mechanisms for such information to promote sustainable energy use but also the physical and mental health of those living in the home. The design can include new innovations and/or alterations of existing technology.

In essence, the central challenge question you need to answer is:

How can a smart home create a healthier and more sustainable home environment?


ericsson logo vertical

This program is made possible by a two-year partnership between the Academy and Ericsson-created Center of Excellence for Advanced Telecommunications and IoT. Throughout the program, Omani youth will build critically important 21st century skills, hone their entrepreneurial and innovation mindsets, and build their digital knowledge and leadership potential.


Team members: Al-Zahraa A. (Team Lead) (Oman), Tahra A. (Oman), Miaad A. (Oman), Taher A. (Oman)

Mentor: Venkatesan Subramaniyan (India)

Read More >


This Challenge is closed.

We have archived the resources from this challenge. These resources are valuable resources for educators and students.

Urban Gardening – Get Growing!


Clifford Chance has partnered with The New York Academy of Sciences to launch innovation challenges in Kigali, Rwanda. The goal of this three-year program is to strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education opportunities and enhance STEM workforce development in Kigali. We’re pleased to launch our latest Open Innovation Challenge and we seek innovative ideas for how to grow food in our own homes.

Students ages 13-17 in Kigali, Rwanda are invited to compete in an 10-week innovation challenge this Spring. During the challenge, students can form teams with peers and have access to research guidance from mentors via the Academy’s own virtual collaboration platform, Launchpad. The students then work together to develop an innovative, research-driven solution to address the challenge.

The Challenge

Kigali, Rwanda has been hailed by the United Nations as a “model sustainable city” and is considered one of the most food-secure cities in Africa. Nonetheless, drought and competing needs for land-use continue to threaten food security. In the face of climate change and a growing urban population, students who take on this challenge will be tasked with considering how urban gardening can be a part of the solution. The need for low-cost or no-cost innovations will be critical.

Design an innovative approach to implement urban gardening in your home, school or neighborhood that increases access to nutritious food sources for your family and/or community.


The program is made possible through the support of Clifford Chance as a part of its Cornerstone initiative. Cornerstone is Clifford Chance’s flagship global pro bono and community investment initiative in Rwanda. The initiative is made up of a series of projects that are designed to help these communities overcome the barriers inhibiting improvements in well-being.


This Challenge is closed.

We have archived the resources from this challenge. These resources are valuable resources for educators and students.

Students Create an App to Promote Urban Farming Around the World

Winner of the Junior Academy Challenge – Spring 2023 “Urban Gardens”

Team members: Tianze H. (Team Lead) (United States), Tianlai H. (United States), Radwa A. (Egypt)

Mentor: Olusola Ladokun (Nigeria)

Urban gardening can be an effective way to provide fresh and healthy food at a low cost, particularly in parts of the world where food security remains elusive. But it involves many variables– climate, soil, location, sun exposure, type of crop– and urban residents often need education and guidance in order to be successful gardeners right from the start. Three students — Tianze H. (United States, Team Lead), Tianlai H. (United States), Radwa A. (Egypt) — worked under the guidance of their mentor, Olusola Ladokun (Nigeria) to address this knowledge gap, and ultimately won the Spring 2023 Junior Academy Innovation Challenge with their project, “Family Farming: The Ultimate Planting Companion”. The project aims to promote urban gardening around the world by providing useful tips to city dwellers that enables them to supplement their diet with home grown crops.

“After long discussions we finally settled on the current idea,” says Tianlai. “Personally, I contributed creative ideas for our projects, like using deep learning algorithms in our application. I also worked with my teammates on the slides, adding things that they might have missed.” To identify what information would-be gardeners might need, the team conducted a small survey before designing an eco-friendly app called Family Farmers. The app contains a scanner that taps into existing plant and weather databases in order to identify the best potential garden locations based on available amount of space and local climate. The app also provides information about farming methods, and shows how common household items can be used for gardening to keep costs low.

Adding a Fun Factor to Urban Gardening

Family Farmers is designed to be the ultimate tool for aspiring gardeners, with an AI search engine that can be used to find suitable plants, an option to share progress and tips with a community of like-minded garden enthusiasts, and a calendar to remind users when to water and take care of their plants. The students also added an element of entertainment to their app, with plant-related games that provide fun facts about gardening.

Developing this innovative solution required hard work. The small but mighty team size (just three people) did not deter the committed students– in fact, it helped with the difficult task of coordinating online meetings across time zones. “The size of the group does not matter. In fact, it might have even helped everyone strengthen our relationships,” says Team Lead Tianze. “We were also able to help each other and make up for what we may not be good at. The teammates were willing to cooperate and overcome the time differences that we have,” says Tianze. “We were also able to help each other and make up for what we may not be good at. Helping to solve a real-world problem was a great experience.”

Team member Radwa enjoyed researching the issues surrounding gardening in an urban environment and collaborating with international students. “This was my first time in a program that involves meeting students from different nationalities and working together on new ideas,” he said. “This is a wonderful thing and I’m very glad to have gone through this experience, meeting new friends and learning many things in a field that I’m passionate about. I hope to do something that is related to it one day.”

The Junior Academy was supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute.



The digital landscape is rapidly transforming as information, processes, and devices are increasingly connected in complex networks. Nearly everything is connected via the internet: homes, businesses, medical systems, monetary systems, infrastructure, and governments, just to name a few. At the same time, individual users of technology open themselves up to risks on a regular basis simply by using smartphones, tablets and laptops. These mobile computing devices are vulnerable to multiple types of cyber threats such as phishing, malicious apps, and ransomware. Relaxed security settings and the use of public Wi-Fi networks add on additional layers of risk. 

Thanks to our hyper-connectedness, these individual security breaches can have far-reaching consequences. With access to a singular password or social media account, cyber criminals have the potential to steal information and identities, crash networks, and even hold entire governments digitally hostage. Innovative cybersecurity solutions that address the vulnerabilities of mobile computing devices and their human users have the potential to make individuals, organizations, and the entire digital landscape more resilient and secure.


About NEOM

NEOM is an accelerator of human progress and a vision of what a new future might look like. It is a region in northwest Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea being built from the ground up as a destination and a home for dreamers who want to be part of building a new model for exceptional livability, creating thriving businesses and reinventing environmental conservation.

NEOM will include hyperconnected, cognitive cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centers, sports and entertainment venues and tourist destinations. As a hub for innovation, entrepreneurs, business leaders and companies will come to research, incubate, and commercialize new technologies and enterprises in groundbreaking ways. Residents of NEOM will embody an international ethos and embrace a culture of exploration, risk-taking and diversity. Some of the most recent cities and destination launched by NEOM include:

  • THE LINE – A linear, cognitive city without cars that redefines urban living
  • Oxagon – An advanced manufacturing and innovation city with a floating platform
  • Trojena – A sustainable year-round mountain tourism destination


Team members: Jessica K. (Team Lead) (United States), Ritwik D. (United States), Neha B. (United States), Bhavya D. (United States), Farah M. (Jordan)

Read More >


This Challenge is closed.

We have archived the resources from this challenge. These resources are valuable resources for educators and students.

Cybersafe Team

Winner of the Junior Academy Challenge – Spring 2023 “Cybersecurity”

Sponsored by NEOM

Published January 11, 2024

Team members: Jessica K. (Team Lead) (United States), Ritwik D. (United States), Neha B. (United States), Bhavya D. (United States), Farah M. (Jordan)

Individuals, businesses, and governments increasingly operate in a digital landscape. But as homes, medical systems, banking services, and key infrastructure connect via complex online networks, cyberattacks have increased exponentially. Developing strong protections against various forms of cyberthreats has become critical.

Enter Cybersafe, the 5-student American/Jordanian collaboration that formed the winning team in the Spring 2023 Cybersecurity Innovation Challenge.

“I’ve been thinking about two things: collaborating with cybersecurity experts and conducting user research,” says Bhavya.

A Focus on Phishing

After thorough research on various cyberthreats, the team evolved to focus on “phishing”, an illegal practice that uses fraudulent emails to manipulate recipients into divulging private information– information used for blackmail, identity theft, embezzlement, and even resale to other criminals.

Email remains the hackers’ easiest route to breaching online security and obtaining sensitive data. The scale of this cyberthreat is staggering: Every day, 3.4 billion fraudulent spam emails are sent around the world, using fake sender addresses to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information. The consequences for victims can be devastating.

In 2022 over 300,000 phishing claims were filed in the United States alone– a 61% increase on the previous year– with costs estimated at $2.7 billion. Cybercriminals are often hard to trace, particularly because they tend to select victims carefully, focusing on vulnerable, often elderly people. Phishing perpetrators often avoid attracting attention by launching large numbers of small attacks. To coerce and deceive their victims, they keep in touch with trends and constantly adjust their messages and tactics.

A Two-Pronged Solution

Through brainstorming and effective teamwork, the students came up with a two-pronged solution to curb this global scourge.

“I gained a lot of insights from this experience and learned how to work with someone rather than under someone,” says Farah. “I took on various tasks so we could share the workload evenly and efficiently.”

First, they focused on developing software that enables Artificial Intelligence (AI) to interact with and enhance testing systems on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. These systems can automatically analyze emails and attachments in order to detect malicious content.

“One of the most valuable things I learned from this experience was the importance of open communication and collaboration,” says Neha. “I found that by working together and sharing our ideas, we were able to create a stronger end product than we could have individually.”

Advocating for Policy Changes

In addition to this technological solution, the team members advocated for policy changes to better protect the public from cyberhackers. In particular, they suggested new legislation to prevent tactics such as impersonation of co-workers or relatives in order to coerce victims into soliciting private information, clicking on malware links, or downloading harmful attachments.

The law would impose tougher penalties on cybercrime perpetrators, increasing fines and the likelihood of imprisonment. It would also require the most frequently targeted companies and organizations (in 2020: financial services, payment platforms, and webmail) to update their security protocols on a regular basis, implement two-factor authentication, and increase funding for cybersecurity research and development.

The students felt confident in their twofold solution to combat phishing and improve the security of personal devices: 1. With the help of AI, identify and filter harmful emails and alert potential victims, and 2. Enact new legislation to improve cybersecurity and impose harsher punishments on online criminals.

A Dual Approach

Developing this dual approach involved hard work for the Cybersafe team, particularly when this required coordinating the time zones of two separate continents. It also offered them opportunities to discover new fields and acquire new skills.

“Normally my project revolves around nature and ecologic science, so this was a nice time to try something new and test my recently developed skills,” says Ritwik. “Although I have a very busy schedule outside the Academy, I tried to make the best of my free time and dedicated myself to this project.“

After successfully completing the challenge, the students felt enriched by the experience and proud of their joint achievement– made even sweeter by learning they were the winning team.

“I learned a lot of collaborative skills from this project, including how to lead and participate in a team setting,” says Team Lead Jessica. “Working with this team was a wonderful experience and I look forward to future collaborations.”

Exploring the Impact of Oil Spills

A shot of fish swimming in the ocean.

Winner of the Junior Academy Challenge – Go Green Sea Blue Team
“Exploring the Extremes” – Fall 2022

Sponsored by NEOM

Published November 16, 2023

Team members: Ellen B. (Team Lead) (Philippines), Valeria S. (Peru), Joaquin S. (Peru), Smriti K. (Nepal), Tanisha T. (Indonesia)

Mentor: Jasmine P. (United States)

“Exploring the Extremes” required participating teams to offer new solutions to the major issues of our time.

The winning team, “Go Green Sea Blue”, took an ambitious, multi-pronged approach to tackling the complicated problem of oil spills, which pollute our oceans and threaten our marine ecosystems, our wildlife, and even our coastal environments.

“I loved the brainstorming sessions we had as a team and the passion each member showed for their part was transparent,” says Smirti. “As part of the research and game development team, I learned a lot about oil spills, and this strengthened my motivation for this project. Writing articles for our website helped me improve my writing.”

The team members identified key issues in the handling of oil spills, drawing on their diverse skills.

“Our team members came from diverse backgrounds and brought unique skills to the project,” explains Team Lead Ellen, who found the Challenge “an extremely rewarding experience.”

The Challenges

For example, tracking and locating oil spills, and containing their impact, is often difficult. Clean-up methods are insufficient to prevent long-term damage, and governments often struggle to identify those responsible and hold them accountable.

“This project has been a huge opportunity for me. It has changed my opinion on certain topics and made me realize the importance of having different points of view and of diversity,” says Valeria.

Building on the initial research they conducted, team members held long meetings online to develop a comprehensive approach that addresses several of these deficiencies. Jasmine, who mentored the team (and had supported teams in two previous Junior Academy Challenges), was impressed with their approach.

“I felt incredibly fortunate to work with such an organized team,” she explains. “At the first meeting, the team showed me their action plan for the whole challenge. The level of detail and organization from Go Green Sea Blue was absolutely remarkable.”

The students devised a five-point approach to address the devastating impact of oil spills on the oceans and the threat they pose to marine and human life. It wasn’t always easy.

“Though my team faced a lot of setbacks due to time differences and the tight schedule, we pulled together and figured out a way to make it work,” says Tanisha. “We made sure that we put quality over quantity and invested our efforts to do the best that we were able to do.”

The Team’s Process

As a first component of their solution, the high-schoolers proposed the creation of a machine-learning model that relies on satellite images to detect oil spills, using Radarsat Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) technology and Automatic Identification System (AIS) to identify the most likely perpetrators.

Next, they suggested developing a mapping tool that would combine static and real-time data to create a centralized, interactive map for environmental disaster response, improving communication among environmental experts working on ocean pollution. To improve response time, they also proposed developing an eco-friendly mothership that incorporates early warning systems and GPS sensors to track and help clean up oil spills, using mini robots powered by photovoltaic cells that can operate for several weeks.

Raising awareness of the risks posed by oil spills, and the importance of maintaining ocean ecosystems among the population, especially for children, was the fourth element of the team’s extensive solution. To make learning fun and appealing, they devised an interactive game that tests the knowledge of users of all ages.

Finally, the team members proposed a new policy: the creation of a World Association for Marine Oil Spills which would work with existing marine institutions, such as the European Safety Maritime Agency and the Caspian Environmental Program, to improve international cooperation, raise funds for dedicated scientific research, and organize events– and also identify loopholes in existing legislation, and propose new laws.

“We had good times in the meetings– sometimes fun, sometimes just excited by the progress we made day by day,” says Joaquin. “Even though we worked until the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning on some days, we are very satisfied with the results we have achieved.”