Science Essay Competition Topics

The essay competition was created to inspire students to explore connections between human rights and science, engineering and the health professions. Students may write on any topic at the intersection of science and/or technology with human rights.

The AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition Student Essay Competition is made possible by the AAAS-Andrew M. Sessler Fund for Science, Education, and Human Rights.

Past Winners:

2017

66 students from 32 different countries entered the competition. The essays covered a wide range of topics at the intersection of science of human rights, including reproductive technologies, food security, artificial intelligence, data privacy, and access to water.  The winners will be recognized at the July 27, 2017 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C. 


Graduate Student Winner
Miriam Aczel, Imperial College London 
Essay Title: "Fracking and Human Rights: Using a Rights-Based Framework to Regulate a New Technology"


Undergraduate Student Winner
Church Lieu, California State University – Los Angeles
Essay Title: "The Augmentation Gap"


Honorable Mentions
Kylie Orme, University of Utah
Essay Title: “Mr. Robot: Morality, AI, and Personhood” 

Elaine Huang, Lafayette College
Essay Title: "Doomed to Digital Dependence? Children in the Age of Persuasive Technology"


2016

42 students from 10 different countries entered the competition. The essays represented a wide range of scientific topics, including child psychology and development; personalized medicine; assistive technologies; food security; information technology; research ethics; environmental disasters; forensic science; and the place of ethnic, racial, and gender identity in scientific research. The winners were recognized at the July 2016 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C.


Graduate Student Winner
Julie Fleischman, Michigan State University
Essay Title: “Skeletal Analysis after Crimes Against Humanity and Genocides: Implications for Human Rights”

Ms. Fleischman is an Anthropology doctoral student at Michigan State University.  She is completing her dissertation research on human remains from the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia; she is focusing on the skeletal injuries as well as how the remains are understood in contemporary Cambodian society.  Her primary research interests include forensic anthropology, human rights, and skeletal trauma. 


Undergraduate Student Winner
Tanner Rolfe, University of Dayton
Essay Title: “Living Water: A Catholic Social Teaching Perspective on PFOA and Human Rights”

Tanner is currently a junior at the University of Dayton majoring in mechanical engineering with an intended minor in mechanical systems. He has a special interest in applications of shape-changing mechanisms and is currently involved in undergraduate research focused on kinematic synthesis of variable geometry linkages. He says, "I love the design process: it allows me to express my creativity while giving me the opportunity to apply my skills in a practical and significant way.After graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school in pursuit of a master’s degree in engineering, and aspires to one day earn PE licensure. 


Honorable Mention for Creativity and Originality
Priyanka Menon, Harvard University
Essay Title: “Mathematics and the Question of Human Rights”

Priyanka Menon graduated from Harvard College in 2016 with a B.A. in Mathematics and a secondary in History. She is primarily interested in the histories and theories of human rights, political violence, and civil disobedience.


2015

29 students from 8 different countries entered the competition. The essays represent a wide range of scientific topics: neuroscience, biology, ‘Big Data’, forensic anthropology, science policy, STEM education, wildlife ecology, environmental sustainability, sociology, medicine, global health, science ethics, stem cell research, materials engineering, crowd-sourcing, computer science, biotechnology, genetics, agricultural sciences, climate change, and information technology. The winners were recognized at the July 2015 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C.


Graduate Student Winner
Wasima Khan, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Essay Title: "Profits, Medicine, and the Human Right to Health in the Pharmaceutical Industry: Educating (Future) Business Leaders"

Wasima Khan, J.D., is a PhD candidate in Corporate Law at the Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Wasima’s forthcoming dissertation focuses on how responsibilities toward distributive justice can be implemented in law, business, and society.


Undergraduate Student Winner
Lauren Y. Chan, Queen's University
Essay Title: “The Pursuit of Perfection? Fetal Genetic Screening"

Lauren is a first year medical student at Queen’s University in Canada, and was one of ten students accepted into the inaugural year of the Accelerated Route to Medical School program in 2013. She is passionate about scientific research and human rights, and hopes to incorporate global health into her future medical career.


Honorable Mentions
Jonah S. Rubin, University of Chicago
Essay Title: “Spain’s Laboratory of Hope and Dignity: Scientific Exhumations and the Making of Dead Citizens"

Neha Shah, Georgetown University
Essay Title: "The Structural Human Rights Violations of Malaria"


2014

53 students from eleven different countries entered the competition. Their essays covered almost as many topics, addressing human rights concerns connected to surrogacy, immunization, bio-technology, genetic tests, environmental health issues, and more. Many essays highlighted potential contributions of science and technology to protecting human rights, while others gave thoughtful consideration to ways in which human rights principles can inform scientific research and practice. The winners were recognized at the July 2014 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C.


Graduate Student Winner
Wasiu Adedapo Lawal, The University of Texas at Arlington
Essay Title: "Water as a Friend and a Right"
Read the winning graduate essay.


Undergraduate Student Winner
Surabhi Chaturvedi, National Law Institute University, Bhopal
Essay Title: “Satellite Imagery in International Human Rights Litigation”
Read the winning undergraduate essay. 


Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to participate in the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition Essay Competition. This essay competition was created to inspire students to explore connections between human rights and science, engineering and the health professions. Students may write on any topic at the intersection of science and/or technology with human rights. 

Do you want to compete? Click here to
read the rules and regulations!

Submissions should be written in the form of an analytical or critical paper that raises thought-provoking questions. For example, potential essay topics might include: the applications of a scientific approach or a new technology to address specific human rights concerns; an analysis of synergies between human rights obligations and the social responsibilities of scientists, engineers and/or health professionals; or the ways in which full implementation of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress may influence realization of other human rights. These examples are only provided to spark ideas: students are encouraged to write essays that reflect their own ideas, interests, and insights. 

Prizes will be awarded in the following categories: 1) Undergraduate student and 2) Graduate student. 

The winning students will be recognized at the July 2018 meeting of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. Winners of the competition will receive a year of membership in AAAS and a one-year subscription to Science, as well as a travel stipend to attend the Coalition’s meeting, generously provided by the AAAS-Andrew M. Sessler Fund for Science, Education, and Human Rights. Students who receive prizes will be asked to support AAAS stewardship of the Sessler Fund by providing feedback about their experience in the competition. The winning essays will be considered for publication by the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program. 

How to Enter

  1. Submit your essay through the essay competition website which will be open 1 April 2018 through 30 April 2018. Website URL will be available in 2018.
  2. The essay may be submitted in either Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF format.

Read the competition's rules and regulations here.

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