The TORCH Humanities and Science Essay Competition

How can musicians use concepts about randomness and order developed by physicists and mathematicians to enrich their compositions? How far is the image showing a patient’s brain scan an aesthetic choice made by the clinician? How can humanities scholars and policy makers help engineers to explore the potential social and cultural impact of their innovations? Is mathematical proof a form of narrative? What can mental health practitioners learn from the arts?

Galaxy background with various photographs of scientific discoveries - Printing Press, Lightbulb, Steam Engine. Text reads: write an essay on a groundbreaking scientific discovery or invention and explain its impact on hmanity. Due 5pm 19 May, Win £75!

With this competition, we want you to explore the relationship between the humanities and the sciences. We want to examine how new answers can be found – and new research questions can be set – by bringing the disciplines together. To this end, we propose that you write an engaging short essay about a notable scientific moment, invention or discovery and its impact on humanity. 

For example, you could write an essay on the steam turbine, invented by Charles Parsons in 1884, and the Industrial Revolution’s impact upon the arts and culture. You could write about Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray photograph of B-DNA, which was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA. Or, you could write about gunpowder, which was invented in China in the 9th century. It has been a major factor in military technology, and the resulting wars have changed the course of human history.

You might argue that the Humanities and the Sciences are fundamentally different. Alternatively, do they share roots, values, aspirations and a common, contemporary predicament? Persuade us. The most successful essays will be astutely researched and written in a creative and engaging manner.

For inspiration, check out Professor Sally Shuttleworth’s Diseases of Modern Life project, which explores the medical, literary and cultural responses in the Victorian age to the perceived problems of stress and overwork, anticipating many of the preoccupations of our own era. Alternatively, read the blog post Plants, Brain and Imagination by Dr Sarah Watkinson, which outlines a TORCH SciPo event centred around poetry at the Botanic Garden and St Hilda's College, or Dr Jenny Oliver’s wonderful piece on Fungus and fertility in sixteenth-century French poetry: how is a poem like a mushroom?


  1. Entrants must be under 17 years of age (inclusive). 

  2. Entrants may be 18 years or older. 

Please indicate which category you are entering. 

Prizes for each category

  • First prize = £75

  • Two runners up will each receive £25 

DEADLINE: 5pm, Tuesday 19th May. 

Rules and Regulations: 

1. Your entry must be in English, your own unaided work, and not a translation of another writer. 

2. Your essay must be shorter than 1,500 words

3. Please send all entries as a pdf or Word document to Judging is anonymous. Your name and address must not appear on the pieces entered, nor any other marks that could identify you. Please identify yourself in the body of the email, not the attached entry itself. 

4. Maximum two entries per person. 

5. The closing date is 5pm, Tuesday 19th May 2020. The winning entry, and two runners-up will be notified by 5pm, Friday 12th June 2020

6. TORCH reserves the right to publish the top three entries from each category on our website and social media channels ad infinitum. Authors may also publish their pieces elsewhere. 

7. We will not enter into any correspondence about the winner or entries, nor will we make changes to entries received. Incomplete submissions will not be accepted. The judges’ decisions will be final. Your entry in the competition means you accept these rules.

8. We will abide by good practice in the running of this competition, but cannot be held responsible for circumstances beyond our control such as being unable to access our website services. Prizes may be withheld or altered if we receive no outstanding entries, or insufficient entries.

9. Entry is FREE. No entry form is needed. 

10. Notification of receipt of entry will be by email.

11. Essays cannot be altered or substituted once they have been entered.

12. Entry is taken to be acceptance of these rules.

13. Plagiarism in any form will not be tolerated. 

14. This essay competition is international and welcomes entrants in English from all countries.

15. Entering or winning the competition does not confer a lasting association of any kind with TORCH.

16. In the body of your email, please indicate which category you apply to.