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Star Polymers, Space Origami and Singing Finches: The Winners of Our 2nd Annual STEM Writing Contest

From snake venom and egg shells to Alzheimer’s and Covid-19, students explain concepts from the world of science, technology, engineering and math.

science writing competition 2021 high school

By The Learning Network

Where do scientists — and science writers — get their ideas? They pay close attention to the world around them and ask questions, then look for answers to the ones that fascinate them most.

That, at least, is how many of the top 11 winners of our Second Annual STEM Writing Contest describe their process. Like last year , we and our partner, Science News , challenged teenagers around the world to choose any STEM-related question, concept or issue that interested them and, in 500 words or fewer, explain it to a general audience in a clear and engaging way. And, like last year, we added an optional field to our submission form that invited participants to also tell us how they chose that topic.

Here are a few excerpts. Read them, then scan the titles of the winning essays below and see if you can guess which might go with which. (Answers are at the bottom of the post.)

A. “Last year, my dad cut his knee badly when he fell doing home repairs. Although the wound was soon sewn up with a neat row of stitches, it showed signs of an infection a few days later.” B. “I happen to have two canaries. At first, the second one didn’t have a song …” C. “ As an aspiring mechanical engineer, I always tend to look at systems and products and think, ‘How can I make that better?’” D. “I’ve always loved dogs, and over quarantine I’ve become even closer with my dog Ringo. I began to question …”

We hope you’ll do more than just scan, though. Click the links to read even a few of these fascinating essays in full and you’ll see how impressively our winners managed to translate complex scientific ideas — about finches and fin whales, desalination and dementia, polymers and peacock mantis shrimp — into something not just informative and understandable, but also enjoyable to read.

In 2020, the first year of this contest, 1,618 students sent in submissions. This year participation more than doubled, to 3,741 entries. We’re already planning to offer this contest for a third year, and if you’re interested in joining us, you can do no better than to study the work of these winners as mentor texts — for how to follow your curiosity; find reliable sources for research; craft engaging opening paragraphs; use analogies and metaphors to help a layperson understand a difficult concept; and experiment with voice and style to make your essay sing.

Congratulations to the 11 winners, 15 runners-up and 36 honorable mentions , and thank you to all the teachers and students who sent work in, and to the many judges with a STEM background who volunteered to help us choose.

STEM Writing Contest Winners

In alphabetical order by the writer’s last name.

Natalia Araña, age 16, Philippine Science High School, Quezon City, Philippines: “ Mycowood Violins: A Different Kind of Time Machine ”

Sophie Araten, age 15, Millburn High School, Millburn, N.J.: “ Unleash the Tests: The Four-Legged Future of Covid-19 Testing ”

Maggie Bell, age 16, Lakeside High School, Atlanta, Ga.: “ Dishwashers and Dementia: The Brain System You’ve Never Heard Of ”

Jaejeong Kim, age, 17, Hunter College High School, New York, N.Y.: “ A Rising Star: These Star-Shaped Polymers May Be Our Last Defense Against Superbugs ”

Hoonsun Lee, age 17, Cornerstone Collegiate Academy of Seoul, Seoul, South Korea: “ Origami in Space Engineering: Rediscovering the Meaning of Discovery ”

Suleiman Mohamed, age 16, British School Muscat, Muscat, Oman: “ The Peacock Mantis Shrimp: The Ant-Man of Atlantis ”

Nicola Myers, age 17, Boise High School, Boise, Idaho: “ And the Grammy Goes to … Fin Whales? ”

Erin Rasmussen, age 14, Andover High School, Andover, Mass.: “ The World’s Best Quarantiners ”

Kelly Shen, age 16, Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton, Calif.: “ From Babbling to Birdsong: What Finches Can Teach Us About Vocal Learning ”

Dana Steinke, age 16, Saratoga High School, Saratoga, Calif.: “ The Motion of the Ocean: Using Sea Waves to Desalinate Seawater ”

Jocelyn Tan, age 15, Ridge High School, Basking Ridge, N.J.: “ Sleep to Clean: A Prevention of Plaques That Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease ”

Simran Anand, age 16, Crestwood Preparatory College, Toronto, Ontario: “Tiny Heros”

Elizabeth Banzhaf, age 17, Lakeside High School, Atlanta, Ga.: “The Magic of Fireflies”

Varun Fuloria, age 14, The Harker School, San Jose, Calif,: “The Healing Powers of a Deadly Bite — Medicinal Applications of Snake Venom”

Alyssa Kang, age 13, J.H.S. 067 Louis Pasteur, Little Neck, N.Y.: “Eggshells and Tomato Peels: Your Next Set of Tires”

Pooja Kanyadan, age 15, Wheeler High School, Marietta, Ga.: “The Curious Case of Orange Fur: Epigenetics and Its Powerful Role in Gene Expression”

Anna Lehman, age 15, Porter-Gaud School, Charleston, S.C.: “Air Pollution Against Our Global Aviary: An Unacknowledged Attack on Birds Everywhere”

Zheshen Li, age 16, Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science, Princeton, N.J.: “The More You Build, the Worse It Gets: Braess’s Paradox”

Emily Liu, age 17, Northview High School, Duluth, Ga.: “Happy Pills? Emotions and the Search for a Way to Control Them, Starting With Antidepressants”

Evan Lu, age 15, Conestoga High School, Berwyn, Pa.: “Machine-Made Music: How Artificial Intelligence Is Redefining Musical Composition”

Diya Mukherjee, age 15, The Harker Upper School, San Jose, Calif.: “Dying Patients, Dying Transplants: The Potential of Machine Perfusion”

Shivani Patel, age 17, Manhasset High School, Manhasset, N.Y.: “The Role of Cytokines in the Immune System: Friends or Foes?”

Uma Sthanu, age 13, Pearson Ranch Middle School, Austin, Texas: “Eye-to-Eye: How We Receive and Send Emotional Signals Through Our Eyes”

Vanessa Yip, age 15, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Gloucester, United Kingdom: “Do Animals Grieve?”

Kathleen Zhang, age 17, The Peddie School, Hightstown, N.J.: “Viruses Can Save Lives — The Scope of Oncolytic Virus Therapy”

Yanze Ryan Zhu, age 12, Rumsey Hall School, Washington Depot, Conn.: “The Unexpected Sequela of Coronavirus”

Honorable Mentions

Brian Caballo, age 17, The Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, N.Y.: “Wintertime Regression and Seasonal Depression”

Camille Campbell, age 16, home-school, Scottsdale, Ariz.: “Making a Martian: Is Tardigrade Genetic Material the Key to Colonizing Mars?”

Sam: “Facial Recognition Is Everywhere”

Isabela: “The Crying Bias: How Preventing Yourself From Crying Might Be Detrimental to Your Health”

Eric Han, age 17, Great Valley High School, Phoenixville, Pa.: “The Issue of Plastic Pollution, and How Bacteria and Engineered Enzymes Are Fighting Back”

Huda Haque, age 17, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, N.C.: “Time Isn’t Real. So How Do Our Brains Keep Track of It?”

Jisoo Hwang, age 17, Mclean High School, Mclean, Va.: “Two Simple Clicks: A New Solution to Help the Environment”

Robert Igbokwe, age 18, Latin School of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.: “The Shortcut for Slowing Climate Change That We Absolutely Shouldn’t Take”

Celina Jia, age 14, Livingston High School, Livingston N.J.: “The Growing Danger of Antibiotic-Resistant Germs”

Ishika Jain, age 14, Glen Burnie High School, Glen Burnie, Md.: “No Needles Needed: A Plant-Based Oral Vaccine for Rabies”

Sean Kim, age 16, Tenafly High School, Tenafly, N.J.: “Keto: Diet and Cure?”

Kate Kimball, age 17, Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas, and Hana Yang, age 17, Parkland High School, Allentown, Pa.: “Direct Air Capture: A Solution for a Carbon Neutral Future”

Ella Kitt, age 18, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, La Cañada, Calif.: “Pavlov Says Press Like: How Social Media Hijacks Neural Pathways”

Aliya Shahnaz Kraybill, age 15, United World College of Southeast Asia, Singapore: ‘’Thank You for the Music’: “Thank You for the Music”

Pragya Kumar, age 16, Poolesville High School, Poolesville, Md.: “The Truth About Lie Detection”

Saachi Kuthariage, age 16, Millburn High School, Millburn, N.J.: “Bacteria and Yeast Could Be the Future of the Fashion Industry. Here’s How.”

Jeffrey: “Killing Superbugs With … Air? How Singlet Oxygen Can Hold the Line Against Antibacterial Resistant Bacteria”

Richard Lin, age 16, Bellaire High School, Houston, Texas: “Coronavirus Tests and Crime Scene Forensics: The Science Behind the Polymerase Chain Reaction”

Sherry Liu, age 17, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, N.C.: “The Password You Can Never Forget”

Yumu Liu, age 18, Rancho Solano Preparatory School, Scottsdale, Ariz.: “Skin Hunger”

Nichapatr (Petch) Lomtakul, age 16, Bangkok Patana School, Bangkok, Thailand: “Uncoordinated Ripples: Why You Have a Bad Memory”

Yuhong Lu, age 17, Bellevue High School, Bellevue, Wash.: “Struggling to Memorize? Go Sleep!”

Megan Luong, age 15, Notre Dame High School, San Jose, Calif.: “The Treasure Chest of 21st Century Medicine: Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems Hold Potential Cures”

Zane Miller, age 18, Garaway Local Schools, Sugarcreek, Ohio: “Human Limb Regeneration Might Not Be Too Far Away”

Abigail Negron, age 16, Jose Marti STEM Academy, Union City, N.J: “Tiny Roommates: The Reality of Where You Sleep”

Ambika Polavarapu, age 17, Millburn High School, Millburn, N.J.: “Maybe Viruses Don’t Have to Be the Bad Guys?”

Mulan Qin, age 17, BASIS International School, Hangzhou, China: “Seeking Light from Darkness”

Cathrine Sakin, age 16, Walter G. O’Connell Copiague High School, Copiague, N.Y.: “Light Pollution and Consequential Nocturnal Pollination Patterns”

Zinuo Wu, age 19, North Cross School, Shanghai, China: “Protein ‘Noodle Soup’: Playing With Disorder in a Rational Biological World”

Eason Yang, age 16, Trinity College School, Port Hope, Ontario: “Farewell to the Pandemic Year: How Does the mRNA Vaccine Function?”

Athena Yeung, age 16, Burlingame High School, Burlingame, Calif.: “CRISPR: The Future in the Fight Against Cancer”

Kate: “The Sweet Lies Behind Artificial Sweetener”

Hyunseo (Cecilia) Yoon, age 14, Seoul International School, Seoul, South Korea: “Notorious App Deepfake Makes Digital Farewell Possible”

Sophia Zhang, age 16, Homestead High School, Cupertino, Calif.: “Human-Produced Noise Pollution Is Now Affecting Bat Hunting Patterns”

Olivia Zhu, age 15, James Madison Memorial High School, Madison, Wis.: “Hydroponics: The Sustainable Way to Feed Everyone Nutritious Food”

Yitian Zhu, age 18, Seven Lakes High School, Katy, Texas: “Metallic Hydrogen: A High-Pressure Oxymoron”

Thank you to all our contest judges.

From the Society for Science Community: Victoria Bampoh, Samm Blunt, David Bray, Jennifer Donnelly, Phebe Martinez Fuentes, Shantanu Gaur, Michelle Hackman, Dana Herbsman, Lori Herbsman, Meghan Hess, Kehakashan Khan, Allison Lee, David Lockett, Nadia Makar, Aaron Meyer, Amanda Nix, Dawn Parker, Shannon Payne, Breann Ross, Gerald Sanders, Ernst Schneidereit, Amy Telford, Yesenia Torrescolon, Peggy Veatch, Laura Wilbanks and Jieun Yoo

From The New York Times Science-Journalism Community: David Brown, Cara Giamo, Shannon Stirone

From The Learning Network Community: Kathryn Curto, Michael Gonchar, Jeremy Engle, Simon Levien, Tiffany Liu, Keith Meatto, Natalie Proulx, Katherine Schulten, Melissa Slater, Vanessa Vieux,

Answers to the quiz in the introduction to this post:

A. Jaejeong Kim, “A Rising Star: These Star-Shaped Polymers May Be Our Last Defense Against Superbugs”

B. Kelly Shen, “From Babbling to Birdsong: What Finches Can Teach Us About Vocal Learning”

C. Suleiman Mohamed, “The Peacock Mantis Shrimp: The Ant-Man of Atlantis”

D. Sophie Araten, “Unleash the Tests: The Four-Legged Future of Covid-19 Testing”


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, the 11 best high school science competitions.

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Love science and want to show off your skills? High school science competitions are a great way to do that! But which competitions will impress colleges the most? We've gathered information on 11 of the best science competitions for high school students. Look over the descriptions that seem most interesting to you, then keep reading to learn everything you need to do to make them stand out on your college applications.

11 Best Science Competitions for High School Students

Below are overviews of 11 of the best science competitions for high school students. For each one, we state which grades are eligible, whether it's an individual or group competition, and whether it's a research-based project or an exam-based competition. We then give a brief overview of what you can expect as a participant in the competition.

AAN Neuroscience Research Prize

  • Grades Eligible: 9-12
  • Individual or Group: Individual
  • Research or Exam: Research

Students in this competition focus on researching and solving problems related to the nervous system/brain. If you decide to compete for this prize, you'll submit your own research on neuroscience, which will be judged on relevance to neuroscience, creativity, interpretation of data, and research reports.

Biology Olympiad

  • Research or Exam: Exam

The USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) is one of the more memorization-heavy olympiads, and much of it, especially in early rounds, involves recalling the text of Campbell Biology in a timed fashion. As you progress further, there will be lab components and short-answer questions. For the hands-on portion, you need to be skilled at following memorized procedures. Nearly 10,000 high school students participate in the Biology Olympiad each year. Students take timed exams and those with the highest scores proceed to the next round. As long as your school is registered, you can sign up for the USABO open exam. If you score within the top 10%, you'll move on to the semifinals, and potentially the national and international competition.

Chemistry Olympiad

The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) is similar to the Biology Olympiad in that they're both exams widely open to high school students, and, if you score high enough, you'll keep advancing to more challenging rounds. However, the Chemistry Olympiad does include more of a lab component than the Biology Olympiad. Any high school student can compete in a local Chemistry Olympiad competition, and students are then nominated for subsequent competitions based on their scores. Local competition exams are all multiple choice, while subsequent competitions include short/long answer questions and labs.

Conrad Challenge

  • Grades Eligible: Ages 13-18
  • Individual or Group: Group

The Conrad Challenge is a competition that challenges teenagers to think outside the box and create solutions to address local or global problems. Students work on teams of 2-5 (along with an adult coach) to create a product or service in one of the following categories: Aerospace & Aviation, Cyber-Technology & Security, Energy & Environment, Health & Nutrition, Transforming Education Through Technology, Smoke-Free World: Eliminating & Reducing Teen Vaping, and Smoke-Free World: Repurposed Farmlands & Tobacco Crops.

Like other high school science research competitions, there are multiple rounds competitors can advance to, and those that reach the Innovation Summit level are invited to present their project to a panel of expert judges at the Kennedy Space Center.


Davidson Fellows

  • Grades Eligible: Anyone 18 or younger is eligible

The Davidson Fellows Scholarship awards $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 scholarships to students 18 or younger who have completed a project in one of several fields, including STEM. It's both a prestigious and competitive scholarship to win, and the projects the winners produce are often at the level of college-graduate research projects. Research projects should "contribute a work that is recognized as an outstanding accomplishment by experts in the field and has the potential to benefit society."

Envirothon is a competition designed to promote environmental education in schools. Competitions are held during the school year, with the national competition held each summer. Students compete in teams of five to answer questions, do lab work, and give an oral presentation. There are five testing categories: aquatic ecology, forestry, soils/land use, wildlife, and a current environmental issue that changes yearly.


  • Grades Eligible: K-12

The Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision program is a competition designed to build STEM skills in students. Participants research a current technology of their choice then envision what that technology will look like in 20 years, including development steps, pros and cons, and challenges. Students work in groups of 2-4, along with a teacher as a mentor.

MIT THINK Scholars Program

  • Individual or Group: Mostly individual, although groups of two are allowed

Most research competitions require participants to have already completed the project, but the THINK program is different in that students only need to have completed background research for a project in the science, technology, or engineering fields before applying. Those whose projects are selected receive $1,000 funding and mentorship from MIT students. They also get a paid trip to MIT's campus to meet professors in their field of research, tour labs, attend MIT's xFair.

National Science Bowl

  • Grades Eligible: 6-12

The National Science Bowl is one of the oldest and best-known science competitions, having been around since 1991. Students compete in groups of four (along with a coach and an alternate member) to verbally answer questions in all areas of math and science. Thousands of students compete each year, and you need to be able to answer questions quickly to do well. There are local, regional, and national competitions, and questions are designed to be at a college freshman level of knowledge.

Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (Regeneron ISEF)

  • Individual or Group: Either (groups can have up to three members)

Regeneron ISEF (formerly Intel ISEF) is one of the most prestigious science fairs for high school students. In fact, it's the premier science fair in the United States and one of the best-known high school science competitions. If you rank within the top 100, that's enough to help your application stand out even for Ivy League schools, and if you win the entire competition, you get a $75,000 prize!

You can't apply directly to the ISEF. Instead, you have to start out first in a regional science fair . If you do well in that, you can advance to the next ISEF rounds. Key factors for winning include being innovative and original. To show originality for the ISEF, you need to tackle a problem that's interesting to the scientific community. Since few high school students have a good overview of the academic science literature, it's important for any student to have a professional academic scientist or engineer as their mentor. This will ensure that you work on a problem the field considers important.

Science Olympiad

  • Individual or Group: Either
  • Research or Exam: Mix

We've written an in-depth guide on how to excel at Science Olympiad , but here's a brief overview. Schools that compete in Science Olympiad have a team made up of 15 members. Each member typically participates in three or four events. There are 23 events, some of which are "study" events where you learn about a specific topic and are tested on it, and others are "building" events that are hands-on and require you to design something (a plane, bridge, protein model, etc.). The events are varied and cover topics such as human biology, geology, and circuits. You'll be scored for each of your events, and those scores are combined into a team score. There are regional, state, and national competitions each year.


What to Look for in High School Science Research Competitions

The above list certainly doesn't include every science competition for high schoolers, and if you don't find one that quite fits what you're looking for, feel free to do some additional research of your own. However, use judgement when considering unknown competitions, especially if they are new or you can't find much information about them beyond a website or their social media. Also be wary of those that charge large fees to participate.

Quality science competitions will have a clear and detailed website that explains what the competition is, who is eligible, how you can participate, and who you can contact to learn more. It's not required for them to be backed by an academic or government entity (such as the Department of Energy) or a well-known corporation (such as Toshiba), but having that name recognition can help solidify their legitimacy.

Additionally, older competitions, and those that are national (rather than just local or regional) typically are better known and can stand out more on college applications. While some competitions offer significant prize money, just because a certain competition has smaller/no prizes doesn't mean they're not worth your time. Winners may receive other benefits, such as mentorship or invitations to conferences where they can network.

If you're ever unsure about a science competition, ask your science teacher or guidance counselor about it; they often know a lot about these things and can advise you if you should participate or focus your efforts elsewhere.

How to Include High School Science Competitions in College Applications

Participating in a high school science competition can be a strong asset to your college applications, especially if you plan on majoring in a STEM field. Colleges like to see passion and commitment to your future field of study, and participating in a science competition shows them you have both the skills and motivation to pursue science outside of the classroom. To make your participation as impressive as possible, use the following tips:

#1: Make Clear the Time You Put In

The more time you commit to something the stronger it looks to colleges because it shows dedication and a strong work ethic. So, instead of just listing the science competitions you participated in, be sure to include how long you prepared for the competition and what you were doing. Use numbers whenever possible, for example: "Studied chemistry and biochemistry topics 5-10 hours a week for four semesters" or "spent 25 hours researching biotech innovations, 20 hours contacting and meeting with biotech experts to gather advice and feedback, 60 hours designing prototype…" The more specific and detailed you are, the more colleges will understand how much work you've put into it.

#2: Connect It to Your Spike

Your " spike " is what we call your overarching passion/interest/career goal. For example, your spike might be being a great basketball player, creating a blog with thousands of followers, conducting engineering research, etc. The stronger your spike, the more impressive you are to colleges because you'll show talent, dedication, and passion that will likely continue in college.

If your spike at all relates to STEM, then you want to connect these science competitions to it however you can. Say you want to be a doctor, and your spike is an interest in human biology. If you competed on Science Olympiad, you'd want to be sure to mention any events you were on that related to human biology, mentoring you got from medical professionals, etc. Keep connecting it back to your spike to make your participation in high school science research competitions even stronger.

#3: Highlight Any Initiative You Took

Colleges love it when applicants show initiative because it indicates leadership qualities, aptitude, and motivation. Be sure to make clear any initiative you took with the project. This could include setting up a team, getting your school to participate in a competition it previously didn't have a program for, contacting mentors, designing research protocols, etc. If you came up with the idea on your own and followed through, make sure it shows up on your application!

#4: Don't Feel Like You Had to Win for It to Count

Many science competitions for high school students have thousands of competitors, and only a tiny fraction of those participants will end up winning a prize. However, that doesn't mean they're the only people with a strong extracurricular to add to their applications. Preparing for a competition takes time, skill, and a strong work ethic, all qualities that colleges appreciate. So if you work hard to prepare for a competition, be sure to still include it on your applications, even if you don't end up placing.


What's Next?

Do you love science? Check out our guide to learn which science classes you should take in high school .

Interested in math competitions, too? Check out our article on the 12 best math competitions for high school students .

Want to learn about other impressive extracurricular activities? Read our guide to see four examples of outstanding extracurriculars that are sure to impress colleges .

science writing competition 2021 high school

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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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science writing competition 2021 high school

  • June 3, 2021

10 Writing Competitions for High School Students in 2021-2022

science writing competition 2021 high school

Are you an aspiring novelist, a hobby writer, or a burgeoning poet? Have you tried your hand at nonfiction essays or playwriting? If so, you might be a great candidate for a national, regional, or state writing competition for high school students. Although specifics of each competition vary widely, these are usually great opportunities to showcase your talents, win some scholarship money, and buff up your writer’s resume. You might even get the chance to publish your work in a major journal or literary magazine or gain a mentor.

Here are ten writing competitions with deadlines during the 2021-2022 school year that you can start preparing yourself for right now. While most of these competitions are only for U.S. citizens, some are open to international students as well. Check each competition’s webpage for more information.

Genres: Nonfiction, Novel, Play or Script, Poetry, Short Story, Spoken Word

Award: Up to $10,000 and national recognition

Eligibility: US citizens and permanent resident/green card recipients in grades 10-12 or

15-18 years of age on December 1, 2021

Fee: $35 (waivers available)

Deadline: October 15, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST

YoungArts is one of the most prestigious artistic competitions in the country, encompassing a wide variety of disciplines and forms. Through this competition, the National YoungArts Foundation identifies the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, and performing arts, and provides them with creative and professional development opportunities throughout their careers.

Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

Award: Up to $10,000 and national, state, and/or regional recognition

Eligibility: Grade 7-12 or 13+ years old

Fee: $7 per individual, $25 per portfolio (waivers available)

Deadline: December 2021/January 2022 (depends on region)

The Awards give students opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships. Students across America entered nearly 230,000 original works in 2021 in 28 different categories of art and writing.

The American Foreign Services Association Essay Contest

Genre: Nonfiction

Award: Up to $2,500 an all-expense paid educational voyage courtesy of Semester at

Eligibility: U.S. citizens in grades 9-12 or whose parents are in the Foreign Service

Deadline: TBD; Likely spring 2022

Although details for the 2021-2022 contest are not yet available, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA)’s National High School Essay Contest encourages students to think about how and why the United States engages globally to build peace, and about the role that diplomacy plays in advancing U.S. national security and economic prosperity.

VFW Voice of Democracy

Award: Up to $30,000 in scholarships

Eligibility: U.S. Citizens in grades 9-12

Deadline: October 31, 2021 at midnight

Established in 1947, our Voice of Democracy audio-essay program provides high school students with the unique opportunity to express themselves in regards to a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay. Each year, nearly 64,500 9-12 grade students from across the country enter to win their share of more than $2 million in educational scholarships and incentives awarded through the program. All student entries must be submitted to a sponsoring local VFW Post.

Bennington Young Writers Awards

Genres: Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry

Award: Up to $500 and potential scholarships at Bennington College

Eligibility: U.S. and international students in grades 9-12

Deadline: November 1, 2021

Bennington launched the Young Writers Awards to promote excellence in writing at the high school level. All entries must be original work reviewed, approved, and sponsored by a high school teacher. Winners’ works will be published on Bennington’s website.

YouthPlays New Voices One-Act Competition

Genre: Playwriting

Award: Up to $250 and publication by YouthPlays

Eligibility: Unpublished plays by playwrights younger 19 or younger

Deadline: Submissions open January 2022, deadline likely in May 2022

YouthPLAYS, the publisher of challenging, entertaining plays and musicals for schools, youth theatres, universities, community theatres, and professional theatres for young audiences, hosts an annual New Voices competition for unpublished, non-musical one-acts between 10-40 minutes in length. Specific details for this year’s contest will be announced at the beginning of next year.

The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

Genre: Poetry

Award: Scholarships to Young Writers Workshop, publication

Eligibility: Grades 10 & 11

Deadline: Submissions open November 1-30, 2021

Hosted annually by the Kenyon Review, the Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize was created in 2007 to recognize outstanding young poets. The Kenyon Review also hosts a Short Fiction and Short Nonfiction competition yearly for a wide variety of authors.

Center for Environmental Literacy — River of Words

Award: Recognition and publication

Eligibility: Grades K-12 and/or ages 5-20

Deadline: December 1, 2021 for U.S. students, except in GA or AZ

February 1, 2022 for international students and students in GA or AZ

This free, annual, international youth poetry and art contest — the largest in the world — inspires children ages 5 to 19 to translate their observations into creative expression. Submit original poetry around the theme of the contest: “watersheds.”

John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

Award: Up to $10,000

Eligibility: U.S. citizens in grades 9-12

Deadline: TBD, likely early 2022

The Profile in Courage Essay Contest challenges students to write an original and creative essay that demonstrates an understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage . This is a great fit for any student interested in government, politics, or history.

The Concord Review

Genres: Nonfiction, historical research

Award: Potential to win The Emerson Prize

Eligibility: Work completed while you were a high school student

Deadline: Rolling basis

The Concord Review was founded in March 1987 to recognize and publish exemplary history essays by high school students in the English-speaking world. Although this is not a traditional writing competition, it offers students the opportunity to publish their historical research and gain recognition throughout the academic year. Outstanding submissions may even receive the Emerson Prize, an award named after essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. The entry fee is steeper than most, but it comes with a year-long subscription to The Concord Review.

What are you waiting for? Polish your submissions and share your work today. If you’re looking for help editing your work or general guidance during the college admissions process, don’t hesitate to set up a free consultation today.

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The Best Science Writing Writing Contests of 2023

Writing competitions curated by Reedsy

  • Children's
  • Flash Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Science Writing
  • Script Writing
  • Short Story
  • Young Adult

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science writing competition 2021 high school

Join our short story competition

Submit a short story based on 1 of 5 weekly prompts. Winners get $250.

Showing 27 contests

Elegant literature's award for new writers.

Elegant Literature

One of the largest awards open to unpublished writers, and the only one closed to professionals. We are the first magazine to pay pro rates and only accept submissions from new writers, putting over $100k into the hands of emerging talent around the globe. One new writer receives the grand prize. We also choose the best stories, pay the authors above-professional rates, and publish them in our magazine. August theme: Sunken Secrets.

Additional prizes

Paid publication, 25 x $20 USD | Free entry to Novelist Accelerator | Now Novel Package

Entry requirements

Deadline: September 01, 2023

Crime, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult, Flash Fiction, Science Writing

Letter Review Prize for Manuscripts

Letter Review

The Letter Review Prize for Manuscripts (Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction) is open to writers from anywhere in the world. Three Winners are awarded and have extracts published. 20 entries are Longlisted. Winners receive letter of recommendation for publishers.

$1000 (shared by 3 winners)


Deadline: August 31, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Novel, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

Inception 2023

Sunspot Lit

Beginnings have the power to spark passion or curiosity. They might immediately connect a specific place and time with an emotional tone. The best openings offer a feeling, atmosphere, action, or image that is gripping, and hints at more to come. For Sunspot Lit’s Inception contest, send your best opening. There are no restrictions on theme, category, or the length of the piece or collection from which the excerpt comes. Word limit is 250 for prose, 25 words for poetry.

Publication in digital and print editions

Deadline: July 31, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction, Novel, Novella, Romance, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

AIIRA Writing Contest

AI Institute for Resilient Agriculture

AIIRA is seeking essays speculating on how AI will change careers within the next decade, as well as fiction stories depicting a day in the life of a job transformed by AI technology. Submissions should address how AI will help future professionals perform their jobs more efficiently as well as what job duties will become redundant due to AI.

2nd: $400 (x2) | 3rd: $250

💰 Fee: FREE

Deadline: September 30, 2023

Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Non-fiction, Science Writing, Short Story

Green Stories Writing Competition

University of Southampton

Theme: Microbes to the Rescue! This short story competition is sponsored by the Environmental Biotechnology Network. It may appeal to writers with a scientific bent as it aims to use fiction to raise awareness of Environmental Biotechnology and what microbial systems can do for us. Eligibility: Open to all – we encourage international writers. All submissions must be in English and unpublished. Length: We ask for a short story of between 1000 and 3000 words.

2nd: £200 | 3rd: £100

Deadline: September 21, 2023

Fiction, Novel, Short Story, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Thriller

Public Roads Student Writing Competition

Federal Highway Administration/Public Roads Magazine

Public Roads is proud to announce its first Student Writing Competition, designed to encourage high school and college students interested in or actively pursuing STEM majors to demonstrate their knowledge by writing an article that relates to the transportation industry.

Published in Winter 2023 Issue of Public Roads Magazine

Deadline: July 21, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Non-fiction, Science Writing

Quill and Keyboard Teen International Writing Competition

Quills and Keyboard

We are made of students hosting a contest for teen & YA authors. There are 15 categories, from journalism to a section for novelists’ favorite chapters. Qualified judges will send feedback on each piece. We partnered with many writing organizations such as Teen Author Boot Camp and Newpages and recognized by non-profits such as Polyphony Lit.

Publication in Under the Madness and Skipping Stones

Deadline: May 20, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction, Novella, Poetry, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Script Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

Reader Views Literary Awards

Reader Views

The Reader Views Literary Awards program helps level the playing field for self-published authors, recognizing the most creative and exciting new books in the industry. Our awards program is recognized industry-wide as one of the top literary awards programs for independent authors.

Several marketing prizes (e.g. book review)

Deadline: December 31, 2023

Crime, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction, Novel, Novella, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

High School Academic Research Competition

Columbia Undergraduate science journal

The SARC is an exciting opportunity for students, aged 13-18 years old, who are looking for ways to exercise their research skills and have their works published in preparation for college. In SARC 2023, you will conduct research and write a 2-page essay on ANY topic of your choice -whether it be the sciences, a social issue in your community, or anything! The competition takes place across May through June 2023 and is 100% virtual, removing geographical barriers!

Deadline: May 27, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Science Writing

Abstraction & Reasoning in AI

The ARC Essay Challenge is a competition that desires the evolution of human-level abstraction and reasoning in AI agents. We are looking for interdisciplinary ideas in your essays that draw inspiration from fields such as biology, mathematics, philosophy, neuroscience, or any other to contribute to understanding and improving the adaptability of AI in new and unknown situations.

2nd: $1000 | 3rd: $500 | Publication

Deadline: May 07, 2023 (Expired)

100 Word Writing Contest

Tadpole Press

100 words per entry. Submit as many entries as you’d like. All ages. All genders. All nationalities. All writers welcome. The theme is using humor as healing.

2nd: writing coach package 3rd: developmental or diversity editing package.

Deadline: April 30, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Thriller, Young Adult, Children's, Poetry, Romance, Short Story, Suspense, Travel

3nd Annual WCWF Writing Contest

Wine Country Writers' Festival

Fire up those pens and get those unpublished stories and poems submitted to WCWF 3nd Annual Writing Contest. Three winners in each category (fiction/nonfiction/poetry), publication in Anthology, and your own copy. Entries: $15 or two for $25.

2nd Place: $75 | 3rd Place: $50

Deadline: June 30, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Non-fiction, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

Evening Standard Stories Competition

Evening Standard

We’re searching for fresh new voices who can take the idea of ‘belonging’ in a surprising direction, or tackle it in a way that stops us in our tracks. This competition is not limited to a ‘short story’. Submissions can be a piece of spoken word or performance, perhaps it’s a monologue, a script or a self-contained episode of a narrative podcast. Entries can be submitted as written, audio, or film.

Mentorship with top industry contacts

Publication in Evening Standard media

Deadline: April 12, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Script Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

Eco Friendly Writing Contest

Howard's New Beginnings

The aim of the contest is to share eco-friendly ideas. Tell us something you think helps make the planet become more eco-friendly such as an eco-friendly product or packaging, a recipe for a natural product, or a waste-management tip. Up to 500 words. Any writer from anywhere can submit an entry. Contest deadline is April 22 2023, Earth Day.

Deadline: April 22, 2023 (Expired)

Quill & Ink Literary Festival

Grassroots Literary Magazine

Three awards will be given out to authors in categories of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, with a special fourth award being given to a standout self-published work. Each winning author will be awarded $1,500, given the author attends the festival to host a workshop decided by the festival staff. A two-night hotel stay will be provided.

Deadline: February 19, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Novel, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Thriller, Young Adult

Brink Literary Journal Award for Hybrid Writing

The Brink Literary Journal Award for Hybrid Writing will be administered to the winner of a literary contest designed to champion innovative hybrid and cross-genre work.

Deadline: February 15, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry, Science Writing, Short Story

The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition

Chicken House Books

We're looking for original ideas, a fresh voice, a diverse range of entries and stories that children will love! To enter, you must have written a full-length novel suitable for children/young adults aged between 7 and 18 years. We suggest a minimum of 30,000 words and ask that manuscripts do not exceed 80,000 words. The IET 150 Award will be awarded to a manuscript that celebrates Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

A worldwide publishing contract with Chicken House & royalty advance of £10,000

An offer of representation from a top literary agent

Deadline: June 01, 2023 (Expired)

Fiction, Novel, Novella, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Young Adult

The Goldilocks Zone

Inspired by the search for Goldilocks Zone planets, Sunspot Lit is looking for one short story, CNF, artwork, poem, graphic novel, or script that combines excellence with appeal. Literary and genre works accepted; feedback available.

Deadline: December 19, 2022 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Poetry, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Script Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

Science Fiction Writing Contest

FanStory.com Inc

Share a Science Fiction themed story to enter this writing contest with a cash prizes. Let your imagination fly and enjoy sharing your writing.

Winning entries will be features on the FanStory.com welcome page.

Fiction, Science Writing, Science Fiction

Edit Your Source Code

Effective Altruism at Berkeley

With a $1800 prize pool, Effective Altruism at Berkeley is hosting a scifi creative writing contest. In this contest, writers can explore the ways that becoming a supercapable human affects their lives and changes the world. In the Edit Your Source Code Contest, you’re asked to: Imagine what change(s) you would make to your own source code. Then, explore the possible consequences of your edits. What is it like living in the world as an altered, potentially superpowerful person? We encourage you to explore a range of possible outcomes, including what would happen if your edits create outcomes that are misaligned with your goals.

2nd: $350 | 5x runner-up: $100

Deadline: October 23, 2022 (Expired)

Fiction, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story

Writing Contest 2023

We look for an original and captivating work of fiction or nonfiction. The genre is not important - the story is. We're looking forward to reading your amazing books!

$200 USD Fiction | $100 USD Nonfiction

Deadline: January 31, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Novel, Novella, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Thriller, Young Adult

ScienceQuest NextGen Science Literary Writing Competition


Established to recognize and encourage creative writing and provide a platform for publication, this science literary competition is open to original and previously unpublished short stories in the English language by a writer of any nationality, living anywhere in the world. Writing samples submitted must be from the genres of: Science fiction, Dystopian, Futuristic, Fantasy, Paranormal ​​ We accept essay, short story, and novel submissions up to 15 pages in length, double-spaced.

Consultation with literary agent Leticia Gomez

Deadline: September 05, 2022 (Expired)

Essay, Fantasy, Novel, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Young Adult

Editor's Prize - Work Anthology

Unleash Press

Writers are invited to submit creative interpretations on Work for an upcoming anthology and the chance of winning the editors' prize. Essays, fiction, drama, and poetry interpretations of the theme will be accepted. Submissions should have a total word count of no more than 5,000 words. All authors chosen for the anthology will receive a paperback copy of the book. Only one editor’s prize will be selected.

Publication in anthology

Deadline: December 30, 2022 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Poetry, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller

Seven Hills Literary Contest and Penumbra Poetry and Haiku Contest

Tallahassee Writers Association

The Seven Hills Literary Contest and Penumbra Poetry and Haiku Contest (collectively, “the Contest”) is sponsored annually by the Tallahassee Writers Association. The contest is open to English-language entries from around the world. For the first time, we are open to published entries as well as unpublished entries.

Published in the Seven Hills Review

Deadline: September 30, 2022 (Expired)

Children's, Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Non-fiction, Novel, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

MacQ-15 Ekphrastic Writing Challenge: "The Question of Questions"

MacQueen's Quinterly

For our tenth themed writing challenge, MacQueen’s Quinterly is calling for literary works in multiple genres: flash and micro-fiction, nonfiction, poetry, prose poetry, and poetic hybrids. Each piece entered must include one “q” word and must address the theme described in our contest guidelines and publisher's commentary.

Publication in Issue 15 of MacQueen's Quinterly online

Deadline: August 21, 2022 (Expired)

Essay, Flash Fiction, Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry, Science Writing

Science me a Story

Society of Spanish Researchers in the UK (SRUK)

This competition was created with the aim of promoting scientific outreach in a fun and engaging way, appropriate for primary school children. The ultimate goal of the contest is to promote scientific spirit and inspire the generations that will build our future. We hope to achieve this through the communication of scientific achievements, findings, methods, and anecdotes in the form of short stories.

£150 and £100 runner ups

Deadline: April 24, 2022 (Expired)

Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story

Olive Woolley Burt Awards For Creative Writing

League of Utah Writers

The Olive Woolley Burt Awards are open to the general public for previously unpublished work. Discounts for entry given to members of the League of Utah Writers.

Deadline: May 13, 2022 (Expired)

Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Non-fiction, Poetry, Science Writing, Script Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

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    Ocean Awareness Contest Award Amount: Scholarships up to $1,500 Deadline: June 13, 2023 (submissions open in September) Fee: None The Ocean Awareness Contest asks students to consider the future of a coastal or marine species that is under threat from climate change.

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