Annual Biology Essay Contest


Open to all Philadelphia School District students, grades 9 through 12, enrolled in at least one science class.  Students who are associated with or have family members associated with The Wistar Institute are ineligible.


An issue in biomedical science that has been in the news during the past year.

Winners of the 2014 Annual Biology Essay ContestExamples of Topics

Childhood and Adolescent Vaccinations: How do they work to prevent diseases? What major childhood and adolescent diseases are currently targeted? What is and who would benefit from the rotavirus (diarrheal virus) or the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine?

Influenza Vaccines: Flu viruses mutate constantly and occasionally trigger global transmissions of disease, or pandemics. Why are there concerns about the 2015 flu season? Where is the next pandemic flu virus strain likely to be circulating? Early detection of new flu virus strains is critical for shortening the time from first infections to mass immunizations. What decisions go into choosing a vaccine strain and how soon before a flu season are they produced?

Personalized Medicine: In what areas of biomedical science will personalized medicine likely emerge? What role does cellular DNA play in personalized medicine?

Telomeres:  What is the implication of chromosomal telomeres in cancer and aging?  Can the study of telomeres aid in drug development?

Alzheimer’s Disease: Is there a particular genetic link to early-onset Alzheimer’s and what are the prospects for finding a cure for Alzheimer’s?

Environmental Factors that Impact Cancer:  What environmental factors directly affect lung cancer?  What has happened to the incidence of skin cancer as a result of exposure to the elements of nature?

Biomarkers:  What are they and how can they aid the diagnosis of cancer?

Issues to Address in Your Essay

The purpose of this essay is to emphasize the most recent scientific findings and to describe how these findings have impacted the medical world and/or contributed to the progress of research in this area.  The essay should focus on basic scientific research and understanding and NOT on the social and ethical implications.

Reference Material Examples

            The New York Times (especially "Science Times" section)

            The Philadelphia Inquirer and other Philadelphia newspapers

            Journals and publications such as Science News, Scientific American, Discovery, Nature, and Science


One prize per school will be awarded.

First Prize: $500
Second Prize
: $250  
Third Prize: $100
Runner-up prizes of $50 each

School Prize: $500 for laboratory/teaching supplies to the First Prize Winner's school.


Please read carefully and follow instructions. Essays that do not comply with the guidelines will be disqualified.

1. Your essay should be based on library reference sources and web-based research and should include a summary of current scientific research relevant to your topic. You must cite your research sources and include a bibliography. Be sure to include at least one book or scientific journal as reference in your bibliography. Provide a title for your essay. The essay should be written in the student’s own words and no portion should be copied verbatim.
2. The essay should focus on a biology research topic and should discuss the biomedical aspect of the issue, not the ethical or social issues.
3. Your essay should be well written with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
4. Your essay must be written expressly for The Wistar Institute's 2015 Biology Essay Contest.
5. Original illustrations to accompany your essay are encouraged but not required.
6. Your essay should be three to four typed, double-spaced pages.
7. Use 8-1/2 x 11-inch paper with a 1-inch margin on all sides.
8. Your essay submission must be an original. Photocopies or duplicates will not be accepted.
9. A completed entry form must be stapled to the upper left-hand corner of your essay. The entry form must be signed by a science teacher who has reviewed the essay to ensure that it complies with the guidelines.  Your name, school and grade should appear only on the entry form. To facilitate the judging process, please do not print your name on the essay.

All entries must be postmarked by March 27, 2015 and sent to: Ms. Maria Colelli, The Wistar Institute, 2nd Floor Executive Suite, 3601 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. You may reach Ms. Maria Colelli at (215) 898-3774.

The Wistar Institute is a biomedical research institute dedicated to developing improved methods to prevent, treat and cure cancer, AIDS and other devastating diseases.