Institute of Physics Mathematical and Theoretical Physics Group Essay Competition 2018

The Mathematical and Theoretical Physics Group of the Institute of Physics has launched a new essay competition. Entries can cover any aspect of mathematical or theoretical physics, on a subject of the author’s choice.

As this is the first competition we have provided some suggested topics, but these are by no means exclusive and we encourage entrants to be imaginative and to explore areas of physics that interest them.

The competition is open to all (including IOP members or non-members, individuals or groups) with prizes in two categories: entrants in secondary education; and entrants studying for a degree.  The essays should be written in an accessible way and should be no more than 2000 words. They can be purely scientific in content or can adopt a broader perspective.  Please accompany your entry with a short biography of the author(s) including current education level and a few sentences explaining your interest in mathematical or theoretical physics. Collaborative entries are welcome, provided all the contributing authors are clearly identified in the entry and biographies.

Prizes: Cash prizes of £100 for the winning entry and £50 for the runner up in each category. They will be accompanied by a certificate issued by IOP and consideration for publication on the group’s website.  Entries must be original and will be judged on writing quality and content. Entries and enquiries should be e-mailed to
Closing date: 30 June 2018

Possible essay topics that might be of interest to secondary school entrants:

  • Could we build an elevator to the International Space Station?
  • Could we drive to the moon?
  • How do microwave ovens work?
  • If we can predict solar eclipses, why can't we predict the weather?
  • How much empty space is there in the human body?

Possible topics that might be of interest to undergraduate level entrants:

  • Dark matter
  • Optical holograms
  • Chlorophyll and quantum mechanics
  • GPS and general relativity
  • Gauge-gravity duality
  • The standard model of particle physics
  • The thermodynamics of a fridge
  • What does it mean to say that the universe 'began' at the big bang?
  • Compare the discovery of Neptune to the hunt for the planet Vulcan
  • The superintegrability of the Kepler problem and the hydrogen atom.