Discover STEM-themed competitions for you and your students to enter in this academic year
Competitions are great for students. There is a wide range of science competitions that your students can take part in. With everything from essay, photo and video competitions to practical projects, there’s something to interest every student.
Besides the array of downloadable materials you can make use of in your lessons, as homework or part of a science club, the benefits of taking part include learning how to work in a team, grasping how lessons apply to real-world problems – plus a possible bit of extra cash!
You can jump straight to the lists of science-writing prizes or more arty competitions (such as photography and drawing prizes) or simply read on to discover what’s open to you and your students this academic year.
These competitions have been ordered by closing date. Listing a competition does not serve as an endorsement by the RSC. Last updated: January 2023.
Top of the Bench
Registration opens: now (regional heats)
Closes: January 2023
Top of the Bench (TOTB)is an annual practical chemistry competition that has been running for over 20 years. It’s a long-standing favourite for students and teachers, and is a great chance for students to put their teamwork and practical skills to the test.
Regional heats will be led by RSC local sections between October and January, with the winning team from each heat progressing to the national final held, in the spring, at a UK university (where there is also a session for teachers to explore resources and ideas for the classroom with one of the RSC’s education coordinators).
First prize is awarded to the best overall school performance, with five teams receiving runners up prizes. Plus, there’s the opportunity to win the Jacqui Clee Award, which is given to the student who has demonstrated an outstanding individual contribution.
Teams must consist of four students: two from year 9/S2; one from year 10/S3; one from year 11/S4.
Find more information, including past papers and how to apply, on the TOTB homepage.
Registration opens: now
Submissions open: January 2023
Closes: Friday 24 February 2023
The Schools’ Analyst Competition is returning to schools in 2023, with teams endeavouring to find out who is sabotaging entries at The County Bake Off!
Run by the Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund and the Royal Society of Chemistry, it allows students to expand their chemistry knowledge and skills through practical analytical experiments. Students must be in Year 12 (England, Wales, NI)/S5 (Scotland)/5th Year (Ireland).
Schools and colleges register their interest to host a heat and, if randomly selected, can now enter up to 25 teams of three students to compete to be crowned the overall school winner. Each winning school team will then compete within their region to find regional winners. Regional winners receive a cash prize for themselves and their school.
Register your interest to host a heat in your school through the RSC events website by 24 February 2023. To host the competition, you only need standard school laboratory equipment and some consumables (a bursary is available for those who need it).
Equipment boxes will be delivered to successful applicants by 31 March 2023 and results must be submitted by 19 May in Ireland (to ensure schools have the chance to award winners before the summer holidays) and 16 June elsewhere.
Science meets art
If you have some students who would be hooked by the artistic side of science, check out these competitions:
- RSB Photography competition (ages under 18; opens March 2023; £500 top prize)
- RPS Science Photographer of the Year (ages under 18; deadlines TBD)
- RSB Nancy Rothwell Award for specimen drawing (ages 7–18; opens March 2023; prize includes set of drawing pencils and a small cash prize for both the student and school)
- Science Without Borders challenge; for artwork highlighting a marine species on the brink of extinction (ages 11–19; closes 6 March 2023; prize of up to $500)
- British Science Week poster competition; this year’s theme will be ‘connections’ (ages 3–14; March–April 2023 TBC)
MathWorks Math Modeling challenge
Age: 16–19 (England and Wales only)
Registration opens: now
Closes: Friday 24 February 2023
The M3 Challenge is an internet-based applied maths competition that inspires participants to pursue STEM education and careers. Working in teams of three to five, participants have 14 consecutive hours to solve an open-ended maths-modelling problem focused on a real issue during the challenge weekend, 3–6 March 2023.
The problem typically has a socially conscious theme – equity, the environment, conservation or recycling, energy use, health, and other topics that young people care about. The challenge gives students the opportunity to experience the vital role applied maths plays in society and its value to gain insight into multi-faceted, real-world problems. For example, 2022’s problem centred around modelling the impacts of remote work.
Free access to resources including modelling and coding handbooks, videos and sample problems help teams prepare for success.
The competition’s final presentation and awards ceremony event will be held in New York City in late April – an all-expense paid experience for the nine finalist teams. These top teams will be awarded scholarships toward the pursuit of higher education, with members of the overall winning team receiving $20,000 (»£17,000) each.
For rules, resources and to register, visit the competition website.
Cambridge Chemistry Race
Registration opens: Mon 5 December 2022
Closes: February 2023
In the Cambridge Chemistry Race, teams of 3–5 students solve as many theoretical problems as they can over the course of two hours – ranging from easy riddles to tasks of A-level difficulty and complex chemical problems.
Once a team has solved a question, the examiner verifies their answer and hands them the next question. Points are awarded based on the number of successful attempts. Whoever gets the most points wins!
Students are allowed to use a calculator, books, notes, and printed literature. The challenge aims to test problem-solving skills and chemical understanding rather than knowledge. Explore past questions and solutions here to get an idea of what’s in store.
Schools may only enter one team each and places are first come first served.
The competition is run in collaboration with the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry. This year, it is joined by the University of Oxford too, so students may compete in either city. The competition will take place on Saturday 4 February 2023. Learn more on the competition website.
Big Bang Young Scientists and Engineers Competition
Registration opens: now
Closes: 30 March 2023
The Big Bang Competition recognises young people’s achievements in STEM and builds confidence in project-based work, focusing on investigation, discovery and use of scientific methods. Students can submit their project as a written or video report – on any topic in the field of STEM. The possibilities are endless!
Students can include their involvement in the competition in their extracurricular activities on UCAS forms and personal statements and be in with the chance of winning a range of awards and prizes – from £200–£1500.
Find out how to get started and get inspired with past projects on the Big Bang website.
British Science Week poster competition
Registration opened: 23 January
Closes: 31 March 2023
British Science Week is back in March 2022. Also returning is their themed poster competition – and this year’s theme will be ‘connections’.
Besides creativity, the judges also want to see clear, accurate, informative content communicated in an engaging and effective way – a great opportunity to practise students’ scientific communication skills. There is a whole host of science-themed prizes for both individuals and their schools on offer.
Entrants can be teams or individuals and each school can submit up to five entries. Find out more on the website, where you can also find activity packs for inspiration.
Local to Newcastle?
Newcastle Secondary School SciFair is the first university-run city-wide secondary school science fair. Sci-Fair is a whole day event that will occur during British Science Week at Newcastle University, at which students will present their models, posters or PowerPoint presentations about a scientific topic of their choosing. SciFair is open to ages 11–16. There are multiple prizes to be won on the day to recognise student’s efforts. There is limited capacity so students should not start their projects before it has been approved; once project proposals have been approved students will have until March to complete their projects.
BIEA Youth STEAM Competition
Registration opens: now
Submissions open: January 2023
Closes: 30 April 2023 for first-round submissions
The BIEA Youth STEAM Competition asks students to use their creativity to come up with ideas for a more sustainable future based on a specific theme. This year’s theme is “developing solutions for sustainable cities”. Students research, design and present their solution, including a written report.
Students can enter as individuals or in teams of up to five members and schools can enter more than one team. Submissions will be accepted from January 2023 and the international final will be held in July 2023. Learn more on the competition website.
Registration opens: now
Submissions open: March 2023
The TeenTech Awards encourage students to see how they might apply science and technology to real-world problems across several different categories, from food and retail through the future of transport to wearable technology. Students identify an opportunity or a problem, suggest a solution and research the market.
Students can work individually or in teams of up to three people. All submitted projects receive feedback and a bronze, silver or gold award. The best projects go forward to the TeenTech Awards Final for judging and the winning school in each category will receive a cash prize. The final will take place in London on Friday 30 June 2023.
Science writing competitions
Keep a look out for the questions and prompts for the following essay competitions and more creative science writing prizes that will appear throughout the year. Ideal additions to UCAS applications, they’ll get students thinking about science, too.
- The Oxford Scientist Schools’ Science Writing Competition (700-word magazine article; ages 15–18; deadline likely to be July 2023; prize includes £50 and being published in the magazine)
- Association of British Science Writers’ Young Science Writer of the Year (800-word journalistic essay; ages 14–16 in certain areas of the UK; to open in January 2023; prize includes up to £1000 and ABSW membership – and the winning essay will be published on the BBC news site!)
- TechFest STEM Next Essay competition (3000-word research project; likely to run June–Sept 2023; prizes include up to £150 of Amazon vouchers)
- Newnham College, Cambridge (2000-word academic essay; age 16–18 women at state school only; deadline likely to be March 2023; winners receive up to £400 to split with their school)
- Robinson College, Cambridge (2000-word academic essay; ages 16–18; deadline likely to be July 2023; winners receive £50 book tokens)
- Peterhouse College, Cambridge Kelvin Essay Competition (academic essay making an argument; ages 16–17; deadline and prizes TBD)
- Pembroke College, Oxford North West Essay Prize (2000-word academic essay; age 16–18 state school students in NW of England only; to open in summer 2023; prize of up to £100 in book tokens)
IET Faraday Challenge
Registration opens: January 2023
Closes: July 2023
Faraday Challenges are cross-curricular STEM activity days for UK schools run by the Institution of Engineering and Technology. This annual competition draws on students’ practical science and engineering skills, asking them to work in teams to solve real-world engineering problems and think creatively. Schools can host Challenge Days and invite teams from local schools to join them or apply to join a day at another school.
Teams should be made up of six students aged 12–13 years old (England and Wales Year 8, Scotland S1/S2, Northern Ireland Year 9). Schools may host a challenge day themselves or attend one hosted at another school.
Students win prizes for themselves and a trophy for their school. There is also a national league table and the top teams from across the UK go through to the national final, with the chance to win a cash prize of up to £1000 for their school. Plus, by taking part students will also meet the criteria for achieving a CREST Discovery Award.
There is also the Virtual Faraday Challenge open to anyone aged 7–15.
Imperial College Science & Innovation Competition
Submission deadline closed: Friday 20 January 2023
The purpose of the Science & Innovation Competition is to motivate young people to engage with science, to encourage them to work as part of a team and to engage them in a fun activity that is motivated by their curiosity and drive.
Teams of 2–4 people must develop a new and innovative scientific solution to help achieve one of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. To enter, teams will be asked to create a 5-minute film that describes the science behind their idea.
The final event takes place in March 2023 at Imperial College’s main campus in South Kensington, date to be confirmed
Learn more on the website.
UK Chemistry Olympiad
Age: 16–18 (recommended)
Closed: 9 January 2023
Run by the RSC, The UK Chemistry Olympiad is designed to challenge and inspire older secondary-school students, by encouraging them to push themselves, boost their critical problem-solving skills and test their knowledge in real-world situations. Explore past papers to get an idea of the types of questions involved.
There are three rounds that culminate with the prestigious International Chemistry Olympiad, which this year will hosted in Zürich, Switzerland. Round 1, a written test taken in your school, is scheduled to take place on Thursday 26 January 2023. Students then receive bronze, silver or gold certificates depending on their scores.
Up to 30 students will be selected to move on to round 2 – a training weekend, this year scheduled for 1–4 April 2023 at the University of Nottingham. As a result of the weekend, four students will then be chosen to represent the UK in the international competition on 16–25 July 2023.
Step one is to register your school or college. Do this and find out more information about preparing on the Olympiad homepage.
Quantum on the Clock
Closed: 8 July 2022
The Institute of Physics’ QQQ group’s Quantum on the Clock competition is open to all A-level or equivalent students in the UK and Ireland. Students are tasked to create a three-minute video about any aspect of quantum science or technology. Entries can be individual or in teams of up to four students.
Cash prizes are on offer for the winners and runners-up, with the judging focusing on creativity, clarity, engagement and accuracy. The ‘best individual’ and ‘best team’ winners will also receive year subscriptions to Physics World and an expenses-paid invitation to a prize-giving ceremony at the Photon 2022 conference dinner, which will take place from 30 August until 2 September 2022.
Unsung Heroes of Science video competition
Closed: 17 May 2022
The Unsung Heroes of Science video competition from Hertford College, University of Oxford is open to all 16 –18 students around the world. Entrants are tasked with making a two-minute video sharing the story of a scientist whose contributions were overlooked. Entries can be submitted by individuals or in teams of up to three.
Professor Alison Woollardwill be judging the competition and looking for engaging content and brilliant ideas, so you can film and edit the video with whatever equipment you have, including mobile phones. Shortlisted videos will be shared by the organisers, with the most viewed winning the Audience Award. All UK-based shortlisted participants will be invited to a prizegiving event in the summer. Winners of the competition in the UK will get to go behind the scenes at the Royal Institution’s (Ri) Christmas lectures and runners up will be awarded annual Ri memberships.
Clean Tech Competition
Closed: 22 April 2022 (registration); 29 April 2022 (paper submission deadline)
The Clean Tech Competition research and design challenge asks students to identify a problem with our natural world and resource use that they want to change, innovate a sustainable solution and submit a research paper to the judges. This year there is no topic restriction; entries simply need to have one goal: create a sustainable solution for an environmental issue.
This is a great opportunity to refine research, analysis and literary skills.
Each team should be made up of one to three students, who must be 15–18 years old on the submission deadline, 29 April 2022. Once the papers have been submitted, the top 10 teams from the global pool will be selected to progress to the virtual global finals. They will present their research and prototypes to the judges, and will receive handsome cash prizes, with the first team also earning a continued mentorship from an expert in the field.
Find out more and register on the competition website.
Royal College of Science Union (RCSU) Science Challenge
Closed: 11 February 2022
Imperial College London’s RCSU Science Challenge is all about science communication – requiring students to demonstrate their skills in debate and reasoning and teach the public about science and its consequences.
Questions on a given theme are set by eminent scientists – who even read the shortlisted entries, so there’s a real chance students’ work will be seen by world-leading academics. You can find last year’s (Covid-related) questions on the website.
There are both individual and team categories, and students can answer one of the questions in either written or video form of up to 1000 words or four minutes respectively. Winners receive cash prizes, plus there are non-cash prizes for the runners up.
Shortlisted candidates will be informed on 14 March 2022 and invited to the grand final on 21 March 2022 at the Royal Institution, where they will deliver a short presentation. Find more information about taking part on the challenge website.