Announcing a Black Hole Essay Competition from Harvard

The $10,000 First Prize will include the opportunity to publish the winning article in Nautilus, a leading online and print magazine that blends science, culture, and philosophy.

The Black Hole Initiative (BHI) at Harvard University announces the first-ever Black Hole Essay Competition, inviting submissions that explore novel connections and new perspectives on black hole research. The BHI awards, including a $10,000 First Prize, will be given to authors of highly engaging 1,500-word articles that effectively connect a non-expert audience with the growing field of black hole science. The deadline for submissions has been extended to September 1, 2018.

As regions of spacetime with a gravitational fields so intense that not even light can escape, black holes are fascinating to scientists and the general public alike. Capturing the attention of world-renowned researchers, the understanding of black holes is at the nexus of the BHI’s worldwide research effort. By combining expertise in the fields of Astronomy, Mathematics, Philosophy, Physics, and History, the BHI is focusing new attention on black holes in hopes of illuminating their nature.

“The Black Hole Initiative offers a unique environment for thinking about the topic of black holes more creatively and comprehensively,” says BHI director, Avi Loeb. “This is the approach we want to encourage from competition authors that boldly explore the topic and make it approachable for a wider audience,” adds Shep Doeleman, who is a senior member of the BHI and director of the Event Horizon Telescope project.

Funded by the John Templeton Foundation and drawing on a network of researchers, academics, and philosophers, the BHI was established as an independent Center in 2016 within the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Harvard. Together with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, BHI team members include Principal Investigators from the fields of Astronomy (Sheperd Doeleman, Avi Loeb and Ramesh Narayan), Physics (Andrew Strominger), Mathematics (Shing-Tung Yau) and Philosophy (Peter Galison).

Now, more than a century after black holes were first mathematically described, the Essay Competition is a BHI effort to expand on the public’s understanding of black holes and generate continuing interest in such scientific research. The $10,000 First Prize will include the opportunity to publish the winning article in Nautilus, a leading online and print magazine that blends science, culture, and philosophy. Reaching new audiences with thoughtful, yet accessible, research is a goal of the BHI. Annual conferences, weekly colloquia, and regular research updates on social media attract both academic and non-academic attention.

Essays submitted to the competition should explore the intersection of multiple fields, including Mathematics, Philosophy, Astronomy, Physics, and History. The competition is open to all, and researchers with active projects as well as science writers with cross-disciplinary perspectives are encouraged to apply. The intent is not to replicate traditional academic reporting, but to expand on the multitude of connections that the Black Hole Initiative is focused on through its mission. Figures and equations should be accessible to a non-expert audience. Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth place winners will be recognized with awards ranging from $2,000-$5,000. Essays will be judged anonymously and the decision of the panel will be final. 

Further details on the competition, including specifics about cover letters and abstracts, can be found at

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