John Templeton Foundation: 25 years of

Student Essay Competition

Prizes for essay submissions focusing on these two Big Questions:

    For college students –

  1. What is the origin of the complexity in the universe?
  2. For high school students –

  3. Are we alone in the universe? Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?

Student Essay Competition

Overview  |  Essay Winners  |  College  |  High School  |  FAQ

Essay Theme for College Students

Big Question III
What is the origin of complexity in the universe?

We are living in a wonderfully complex world. According to the known astronomical and cosmological theories, our universe has become more and more “complex” and produced more and more interesting phenomena in it. How did this happen? What were the key stages? What are the prerequisites for such emergent complexity? For instance, is the “Past Hypothesis” (the idea that the universe had the initial low entropy state) true? Through the proceßss of becoming more and more complex, the universe generated conscious observers who contemplate the very meaning of existence of the universe as well as their own and ask the question: “Why are we here?” What are the origins of this amazing complexity in the universe? What are the origins and conditions of continuing complexity in the universe?

Students are encouraged to choose some aspects of this question, from which they may generate more focused essays. The following sub-questions are provided as exemplary questions. Applicants may choose their own research questions Ïprovided that such questions are directly or significantly relevant to the above Big Question.

Exemplary sub-questions:

  1. What are the conditions for the universe to evolve to a high degree of complexity?
  2. What are the key stages of increasing complexity in the universe? How do they come about?
  3. Will the complexity of the universe continue to increase? If so, how long?
  4. Or, are there any theoretical limits to the complexity of the universe?

Entrants may consider the following suggested readings for inspiration:

  • Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop
  • Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe by Martin Rees
  • At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity by Stuart Kauffman
  • The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John Barrow & Frank Tipler

Questions? Check out the FAQ »

Conference of  Award Winners October 12–13, 2012

Fifth Floor Conference Center
222 North 20th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


UChicago News

Scientists, students receive awards for exploring big questions about universe

By Steve Koppes
October 4, 2012

Check out the FAQ

Online resources

Hubble image of interacting Spiral Galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163David Christian: Big History

From Big Bang to Biospheres: The 2011 University of Chicago Brinson Lecture

The Search for the Nature of Matter

The Ultra Early Universe

The dark side of the universe