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

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Essay Theme for High School Students

Big Question IV
Are we alone in the Universe?
Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?

The recent, rapid advances in technologies that allow the detection of exo-planets in the “life zone” and potential signatures of life and intelligence in the universe raise hope that we are getting very close to the stage to be able to answer the age old question: “Are we alone in the universe?” Discovering life and intelligent beings outside our solar system will be among the greatest scientific discoveries of all time.

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 provided that such questions are directly or significantly relevant to the above Big Question.

Exemplary sub-questions:

  1. What are the signatures of the existence of life and intelligence in the universe? How may we detect them?
  2. Would the fine-tunings required for life in the universe also necessarily require that life be rare?
  3. To what degree are such other beings likely to be similar to humans? Are there features in nature which could limit the level of intelligence or the differences we may expect?
  4. How important is it for mankind to answer this Big Question and why?
  5. What will the implications be of the answer “yes” or “no” to this Big Question?
  6. Does our universe have features that limit the level of intelligence and/or the differences we may expect from them? What kinds of behaviour might we expect from them, if we ever meet them? Should we expect that they have learned how best to live with other beings as they must have survived their own conflicts long enough? What are the possibilities?
  7. Are there advanced intelligent beings out there in the universe that are not biological or are beyond biological (post-biological)? If so, what would be the signatures of the existence of such intelligence?

Entrants may consider the following suggested readings for inspiration:

  • Life in Space: Astrobiology for Everyone by Lucas John Mix
  • Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System by Ray Jayawardhana
  • Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life by Paul Davies
  • Intelligent Life in the Universe: Principles and Requirements behind Its Emergence by Peter Ulmschneider

Questions? Check out the FAQ »