Villanova senior Atticus Fehr shoots for science film prize

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Screenshot from Atticus Fehr
Atticus Fehr’s submission to the Breakthrough Science Challenge explains the theory of general relativity. 
Anyone can vote for Atticus Fehr and help him with the popular vote by viewing his video at

Voting ends Sept. 20


Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
Atticus Fehr of Ojai has advanced to the semifinals of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge.
The challenge offers a chance at a major college scholarship of $250,000, a $50,000 prize for a teacher, and a $100,000 breakthrough science lab for the student’s school of choice. Fehr, a senior at Villanova Preparatory School, is one step closer to winning.
The Challenge was founded in 2015 by Yuri Milner, an Israeli science and technology investor and philanthropist. He and his wife, Julia, fund numerous science contests and projects throughout the world.
Fehr was tasked with explaining a major scientific breakthrough with a short video of three minutes or less. He chose the topic of general relativity.
Fehr said: “I was looking through a bunch of scholarships and the Breakthrough Challenge was recommended to me by a friend and I’m really into film. So I thought this was the perfect blending of two worlds. I really enjoy sciences and I love filmmaking, so I decided to do it.”
After submitting his short video, Fehr advanced to the semifinals, which is the judges’ top 30 videos out of thousands of submissions around the world.
Fehr first learned about Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity at De Anza Middle School in Ventura from his science teacher, Jennifer Willis. Fehr said: “She did a fantastic job with that lesson and it really stuck with me. It really amazed me how everything in our universe can be influenced and changed. For instance, time itself can be changed. That was so mind-blowing to me when I was researching for what I wanted to do this about.”
Fehr said if he wins, he will give the prize to Willis and De Anza because the school is in a lower-income area with a huge number of students. He said: “For a while, De Anza was going to be shut down because it just wasn’t creating enough income. But what was really amazing was a lot of the teachers actually took it upon themselves to improve their classes beyond what their budget could give them. So a lot of them went to companies (for help) … just seeing that amount of effort that the teachers put into every classroom and how much they cared about us as students; it really impacted me and meant a lot.”
Fehr said his time at Villanova has further built on the science concepts he implemented in the film. He credits his physics teacher, Donna Jones, as doing a fantastic job of expanding his knowledge of science. “A lot of what I got from that video I got from Mrs. Jones at Villanova,” Fehr said. “She built off of what Mrs. Willis started.”
Fehr implemented the stop-motion filming technique to explain general relativity in his film. The stop-motion technique uses a sequence of pictures combined into a video. 


Fehr said: “I’ve been doing it for about six years now, and that was just something that I thought could come across as really cool. I love the visual aesthetic that stop-motion gives with the movement. So I decided that I was going to go with stop-motion.”
He had to do most of the stop-motion filming overnight because there was no way to black out a room so the light would not change during the sequence. Otherwise, the sun would have changed the light in the room as Fehr took all of the pictures.
Fehr said: “For about a week, I became nocturnal and I shot it from about 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., or something like that. It was really fun; it was very therapeutic. I just turned on some music and took my little figures that I had built out of paper and clay and wire and I just worked with them.”
He added: “The reactions (to my video) have been great. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people, very positive, and I think it’s great. It really means the world to see people enjoying my video. It’s really fantastic. I’ve gone through and read all the comments and it’s really, really sweet to me.”

Vote for Atticus Fehr
Finalists for the Breakthrough Junior Challenge will be chosen Sept. 21. They will come from the popular vote, the popular vote top scorer, a COVID-19 top scorer and seven regional champions.
Fehr is aiming to become either one of the seven regional champions, or the popular vote winner.
Anyone can vote for Fehr and help him with the popular vote by viewing his video at

To cast a vote, simply comment, share or react to the video on Facebook. Voting ends Sept. 20.


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