Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Undergraduate STS Essay Prize Competition

Since 2010, the Program on Science, Technology, and Society (STS) has held a competition for Harvard undergraduates doing independent, original research on social, cultural, historical, or policy issues at the intersection of science, technology and society. Submissions should consist of either an essay written for a course, or a chapter of a senior thesis (please note: full thesis submissions will not be considered). Thematically appropriate projects in non-textual media, such as films, documentaries, and design projects, are also considered.

The competition runs during the Spring Semester, and submissions are evaluated by STS Program Fellows in the STS Program. The winner and two runner-ups receive a small cash award; several honorable mentions are also selected. The results are announced at a reception with the Fellows and all candidates.

The 2024 Undergraduate Essay Prize Competition is now OPEN. Applications are due by April 12, 2024 and can be submitted following this link

Winners will be announced in-person on Wednesday, April 24, 2024 during a reception at the Harvard Kennedy School, Rubenstein 429 Perkins Conference Room (near the Center for International Development – CID). Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.

For more information on the current and past winners of the Undergraduate STS Essay Prize, please see below. If interested in reading their winning pieces, please contact the STS Program Manager at

2023 Winners

Justin Wong (joint concentrator in Neuroscience and Philosophy) won the prize for an excerpt of his thesis, “Beyond Bioethics: An Ethical Science of Autism.” The essay explores controversies about medical treatments for autism between neurodiversity activists and their opponents and focuses on activists’ assertions that individuals with autism are “different but not deficient.” It argues that these debates are not about whether scientific findings should be used for medical treatment. Rather, they can be understood by resituating knowledge in terms of the values always and already embedded in them, thereby avoiding false dichotomies and “giv[ing] us a vision of science that is open to debates about its values and starting points—a form of knowledge that is more aware of its perspectives, potential and limitations.”

Honorable mentions: Henry Austin‘s essay on “Self-Quantification and Bioconstitutional Fragmentation in Modern America,” and Tadhg Larabee‘s essay entitled “Engineering the Market Landscape: The Irish Railway Commission, Technological Systems, and the Globe.”

2022 Winners

Annelisa Kingsbury Lee

Annelisa Kingsbury Lee (joint concentrator in Environmental Science & Public Policy and East Asian Studies) won the prize for her essay titled “Ultrasupercritical Coal as Viral Technology: The Chinese Case,” which contrasts two visions of nation-building in the dissemination and use of ultrasupercritical coal (USC) technologies in China. Annelisa was the first Junior to win the STS Undergraduate Prize.

Honorable mentions: Connor Chung‘s essay on “The Technological Character of Cost-Benefit Analysis,” Emma Forbes‘ essay on “Commodifying and depoliticizing robot dogs,” and Lauren Fadiman‘s essay on “5G Conspiracy Theories and Biopolitics in the Vernacular.”

2021 Winners

Wyatt Hurt

Harvard College senior Wyatt Hurt (Environmental Science & Public Policy/Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations) won the 2021 Undergraduate STS Essay Prize for Global Eyes, Global Waters: Remote Sensing and the Politics of Transboundary Water Governance.

Connor McRobert

Connor McRobert (Environmental Sciences & Public Policy) won an Honorable Mention for Contested Imaginaries: A Co-Productionist Theory of Climate Change Litigation and the Emergence of a Novel Normative Experiment.

Honorable Mentions: The Necessity of an Unnecessary Procedure: Joseph B. DeLee’s Routine Episiotomy and the Rise of Obstetrics as a Medical Specialty by Judy Durkin (History of Science); From Disorderly Science to Risky Subjects: A Techno-Scientific History of Carceral Rehabilitation Since 1974 by Eva Rosenfeld (Art, Film, and Visual Studies/Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies).

2020 Winners

Eve Driver

Narrative Apocalypse: Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ and the Politics of Climate Change Attribution by Eve Driver (Social Studies ’20).

Honorable Mentions: Environmentalists Against Science?: The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Recombinant DNA Threat by Leena Ambady (History and Science ’20); Deconstructing Medicalization: The Collision of Birthing Modalities in Black Maternal Health by Sandra Ojeaburu (Human Evolutionary Biology and Social Anthropology ’20).

Videos of Past Winners 

We asked our current and past winners about the relationship between STS and their winning essays. Here are their responses:

Belen Mella

Belen Mella (Social Studies ’19) was awarded the STS Undergraduate Prize for her thesis chapter, “Selling the Self: Genetic Ancestry Tests and the Commodification of Identity (Chapter III: Prosumers).”

Matt Hoisch

Matt Hoisch (Environmental Science and Public Policy ’19) was awarded an honorable mention in the STS Undergraduate Essay Prize Competition for his thesis chapter, “Imagining Carbon Neutrality and Imagining Cities.”

Julia Fine

Julia Fine (History & Literature ’19) was awarded an honorable mention in the STS Undergraduate Essay Prize Competition for her thesis chapter, “Growing British India: The Colonial Biopolitics of the Potato.”

Blake McGhghy

Blake McGhghy (Social Studies, December ’17) won the 2018 STS Undergraduate Prize for his thesis chapter, “The ‘Refractory’ Nature of Local Community Life.”

Augusta Conway

Augusta Conway (History and Science ’18) was awarded an honorable mention in the STS Undergraduate Prize Competition for her paper, “Transcendent Encounters: John E. Mack, Aliens, and the Debate on Scientific.”

Bruno Moguel Gallegos

Bruno Moguel Gallegos (Visual and Enviornmental Studies ’18) was awarded an honorable mention in the STS Undergraduate Prize Competition for his thesis chapter, “Environmental Health Impact: Identity Development, Community Organization, and Effects of Synthetic Dyes in the Sikka Regency”

Jacob Meisel

Jacob Meisel (Social Studies ’17) won the 2017 STS Undergraduate Prize for his thesis chapter, “From Daily Weather to Decadal Climate: Boundary Intensification Between American Meteorologists and Climate Scientists.”

Leib Celnik

Leib Celnik (History and Science & History of Art and Architecture ’18) won an honorable mention for his paper “Alan Burroughs’ Invisible Light: Early X-Radiography at the Fogg Museum.”

Sophia Lugo

Sophia Lugo (History and Science ’17) won an honorable mention for her thesis chapter “Lobsterman: Kravitz, Kuffler, and the Role of the Lobster Model in Forming Twentieth Century American Neuroscience.”

Nicole Bassoff

Nicole Bassoff (History of Science ’16) won the 2016 STS Undergraduate Prize for her thesis chapter “Whose Name is it Anyway?: Medical Authority and the ‘Hansen’s Disease’ Movement.”

Leah Singer

Leah Singer (Anthropology ’16) won 2nd place in the 2016 STS Undergraduate Essay Prize competition for her thesis chapter “Injury Law and the Calculation of Future Lost Income Capacity.”

Emma Woo

Emma Woo (History of Science ’16) won 3rd place for her paper “Seeing Pregnancy: Prenatal Care and Women’s visibility in the Women’s Municipal League of Boston.”

Hilton Simmet

Hilton Simmet (Social Studies ’15) won the 2015 STS Undergraduate Prize for his thesis chapter “Blueprints & Laboratories: An Exploration of Plural Modernities in Senegal’s Ecovillages.”

Bran Shim

Bran Shim (Statistics ’15) won 2nd place in the 2015 STS Undergraduate Essay Prize competition for his paper “Land of the Rising iPS Cells: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and Stem Cell Biology in Japan.”

Rachel Taylor

Rachel Taylor (Social Anthropology ’15) won 3rd place in the 2015 STS Undergraduate Essay Prize competition for her thesis chapter “Damning the Drifters: Posthumanist Implications of Jellyfish Subjects in Science, Art, and Aquariums.”

Lily Ostrer

Lily Ostrer (Social Studies ’14) won the 2014 STS Undergraduate Prize for her thesis chapter “Co-Producing the Science and Policy of Child Development.”

Sandra Korn

Sandra Korn (History of Science/Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies ’14) won an honorable mention for her thesis chapter “Doing what comes naturally: Women’s liberation and the radical science movement.”

Danny Wilson

Danny Wilson (History of Science ’14) won an honorable mention for his thesis chapter “This Incredible Organ’: Brain Mapping during the Decade of the Brain.”