STICK SLIP, an earthquake science thriller by Columbia geophysicist

Geology thriller! ScienceThrillers welcomes Christopher Scholz, geophysicist and author of  STICK-SLIP. I love the way this book explores the public’s reaction to scientific bad news (reminds me of Ebolanoia). Here’s a plot summary of his novel:

Deep beneath the Pacific Northwest lies the Cascadia subduction zone—an earthquake factory that is long overdue for a “big one.” Tensions have been building for over three centuries, and it’s not a matter of if but when and how big. Retired earthquake expert Carl Strega thinks he may know, and it’s much sooner than anyone would like to think. But he can’t rush his discovery to the scientific community or the media just yet because his data is based on a cutting edge, unproven branch of chaos theory. Avoiding the destruction of his reputation and mass hysteria is the order of the day.Carl secretly assembles a team of local university researchers to put his theory to the test, but they only have so much time. Before they’re finished, word gets out that a magnitude-nine earthquake is going to rock the Pacific Northwest in less than a year. Panic ensues, as does a backlash against the scientists—all of which slows their progress toward confirming if it’s even true.

An ever-present clock ticks down in this high-stakes thriller, as one cutting edge scientist desperately races to save countless lives, while many attempt to destroy his own.

Intrigued? Scroll down to enter giveaway!

ScienceThrillers guest post

Magnitude-nine earthquake in Japan and its subsequent tsunami inspired science fiction thriller Stick-Slip.
By Christopher Scholz

Stick-Slip is a science thriller about trying to predict the next devastating earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

As a professor of geophysics at Columbia I have spent most of my career researching the physics of earthquakes: the how and why of them. The great magnitude 9 Tohoku, Japan, earthquake of March 11, 2011 and its attendant tsunami captured the attention of the world. Experts like me were equally shocked – no one expected such a huge earthquake in Japan, and the size of its tsunami also greatly exceeded expectations. No wonder, then, that such a developed, earthquake-prone country as Japan was so unprepared for it. (Although in hindsight, we should have seen it coming.)

These things were very much on my mind as I made a trip to Oregon that same summer. The reason for my trip was to visit my sister and her family in Medford, but along the way I spent a week driving down the coast. I couldn’t help thinking how the coastal towns I visited were so vulnerable to tsunamis. The tsunami evacuation sign that you see here and there did not reassure me as I envisioned great waves overwhelming the beaches and coastal resort towns. Just offshore, and running from Vancouver Island in British Columbia all the way south to Cape Mendocino in Northern California, lies the Cascadia subduction zone, the same type of tectonic feature that produced the great earthquake in Japan. In Cascadia the last great earthquake was a magnitude 9 in February of 1700, so the next one is about due, though just like the Tohoku case, the uncertainty in the time scale is longer than a human lifetime. So what is to be done?

I wanted to explore how society would react if it became aware of the certainty of the imminent occurrence of the next great Cascadia earthquake. To do this I devised a way that the earthquake could be scientifically predicted. As a professional I needed the science of the story to be plausible to the expert. I imagined that a scientist serendipitously observed a movement deep in the earth detected by high precision GPS stations. This observation is invented: the observed phenomenon has been observed in laboratory experiments and is part of established theoretical models but has never (yet) been observed in nature. However, once seen, this observation can be interpreted, using established theory of nonlinear dynamics (so called chaos theory) to predict the next great earthquake.

The story continues with a small group of scientists frantically trying to prove or disprove this interpretation and to improve the precision of the prediction. They do this in secrecy to avoid prematurely alarming the public. But the inevitable leak occurs, triggering a media frenzy and public outcry. Thus ensues the response of various elements of society to bad news from science. Humanity’s response to global climate change has so far been largely one of various shades of denial. In the face of the more immediate threat of a great earthquake and tsunami, will it be any different? There isn’t much time to prepare.

Christopher Scholz is an expert in earthquake physics and a professor of geophysics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. He is the author of the monograph The Mechanics of Earthquakes and Faulting, the memoir Fieldwork: A Geologist’s Memoir of the Kalahari, and over 250 scientific papers.

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If you like geology thrillers, ScienceThrillers recommends: BADWATER by Toni Dwiggins.

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Ebola: The end of the world as we know it? I hope so. (Part 2)

Aragorn: Are you frightened?
Frodo: Yes.
Aragorn: Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.

The worst infectious disease outbreaks in human history. (Figure does not include deaths due to endemic, or ongoing, infectious diseases like smallpox.) From National Geographic: Jason Treat and Edward Benfield

The worst infectious disease outbreaks in human history. (Figure does not include deaths due to endemic, or ongoing, infectious diseases like smallpox.) From National Geographic: Jason Treat and Edward Benfield

My fellow Americans:

It’s not a question of “if.” It’s a question of “when.”

I don’t mean an Ebola epidemic on our shores. I mean flu.

Got your knickers in a knot of Ebolanoia?

Yeah? So did you get your flu shot (or intranasal vaccine) this year? How about last year? And the year before that? And the year before that?


Then quit whining. You clearly don’t understand. Natural selection is waiting for the opportunity to select you.

In its current form, Ebola is not going to sweep the country. Hospitals won’t be overrun. Mass graves won’t be dug in the suburbs. Stores won’t be stripped of basic supplies. People won’t panic (I wish)

That’s a job for influenza. Yes, flu. If you’re going to have plague nightmares, focus on flu.

The graphic at left from National Geographic shows (estimated) deaths from great infectious disease epidemics of history. Of the top ten, four were outbreaks of flu.

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed ten times as many Americans as the First World War, which ended that year.

Because flu viruses undergo constant and sometimes sudden, dramatic mutation, a new pandemic influenza virus will be born, probably in Asia. It will have the capacity to kill hundreds of millions of people. If it isn’t stopped, it will cause chaos and death even in rich countries.

Unlike Ebola, flu spreads through the air.

Unlike Ebola, you can catch flu from a person who is not yet having symptoms.

For these reasons, the R0 number for influenza, a measure of how many people an infected person is likely to infect, is much higher than R0 for Ebola. And a big R0 is what makes a plague.

The good news is we know how to stop a flu pandemic. Here’s how:

  1. Early detection
  2. Widespread vaccination

Both of these are achievable. We can buy early detection. Global monitoring of emerging influenza viruses is critical to prevent a pandemic. But monitoring costs money. How much are we willing to pay?

We know how to make flu vaccines. When the next Big One comes, we will be able to make a vaccine against it, which is the one good thing about flu (other emerging diseases, like HIV/AIDS, have proved difficult to immunize against). But a new flu vaccine takes time to design, manufacture, distribute. How much are we willing to spend now to make sure our vaccine infrastructure is able to do the job quickly in the unknown future? While vaccine production ramps up, people will be sick and dying. Hospitals will run out of respirators and masks. How much are we willing to spend now to make sure our health care system is ready?

As an individual, you can boost your chances against pandemic flu by getting the regular flu shot every year. Immunizing yourself against a variety of seasonal influenzas likely gives some cross-protection against future pandemic flus.

I hope that the world will change as a result of America’s encounter with Ebola. I hope people will wake up to the ongoing threat of new and emerging infectious diseases, and that our government will put money into public health and biomedical research to meet the microbial challenge which will never go away.

Because unless it mutates, Ebola doesn’t have what it takes to take down America. But a new influenza, or a virus that doesn’t exist today, might. Let’s be prepared.

(Click here to read Part 1 of Ebola: The end of the world as we know it)

If you’d like to imagine suburban life in America during a flu pandemic, read Carla Buckley’s The Things That Keep Us Here.

If you’d like to imagine a disruptive American plague that grows not in people but in gasoline, read Petroplague by Amy Rogers.


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Ebola: The end of the world as we know it? I hope so.

Ebola infographic

Like a thunderstorm awakening sleepers on a gentle summer night, Ebola is rousing America.

It’s about time.

For most Americans, the idea of a person dying from an infection seems almost quaint, like getting scurvy or freezing to death on Donner Pass. With the exception of HIV/AIDS (which we are comfortably sure is something that only other people get), we’ve become oblivious to infectious disease.

After all, we have hand sanitizer and showers and organic food and hospitals and vaccines (which other people really ought to get) and antibiotics (which I really deserve because my throat hurts). We cannot name a single relative who died of an infection (except Great-Grandpa Joe, and he was really really old). We don’t know what measles rash looks like. We do know that anthrax is something you catch from reading the mail.

In other words, Americans think we live in a world in which we’ve conquered infectious diseases.

We’re wrong. And I hope the one good thing that will come out of the growing Ebola epidemic in west Africa is an end of our world of complacency.

I’ve been aware of Ebola and its filovirus cousins for decades. When I taught microbiology at California State University, I assigned Richard Preston’s gripping nonfiction Ebola thriller The Hot Zone. Amid dull classroom discussions of glycolysis and Gram stains, I wanted my students to understand that microbes matter. They matter most in their unsung roles in the environment, recycling nitrogen, consuming carbon dioxide, breaking down wastes and toxins. But if you want to yank people out of their macroscopic parochialism, the easiest way is to remind them that microbes still cause disease.

Which may seem odd. In some ways, we are more obsessed with cleanliness and being “germ free” than ever before in history. We fret about how many germs are on the hotel TV remote. We scrupulously wash our fresh fruit. We buy “antibacterial” soap and keep our kids from playing in the dirt. At the same time, we fail to make a distinction between the uncountable numbers of microbes that leave us alone, and the relatively tiny number that cause disease in humans.

Microbes are everywhere. Your skin is saturated with them. Your gut is teeming with them. Your DNA is peppered with their DNA. They are essential, ubiquitous, and unstoppable. When humans are extinct or have evolved into something entirely different, microbes will still run the planet.

Because no matter how much the climate changes, or the continents move, or even if a gigantic asteroid obliterates every multicellular life form on earth, bacteria and viruses will persist. Their simple DNA sequences change rapidly. They are constantly creating themselves anew.

Which is the reason why there is no end game in our fight against infectious diseases. We can win major battles–smallpox, the scourge of millennia, is now extinct in the wild–but there is no final victory. As the explosion of Ebola demonstrates, new viruses are always lurking. HIV, SARS, hantavirus, West Nile, MERS: all emerged in the last fifty years. Bacteria that used to be easily killed with penicillin now resist the most potent antibiotics in our arsenal.

The microbes, we will always have with us.

As a consequence, when we’re between outbreaks and everything seems fine, we must resist the temptation to drop our defenses. Preparedness requires ongoing investment in biomedical research. Investment in plans to conserve the antibiotics we have, and to develop new classes of antibiotics. In public health departments at every level of government. In the Centers for Disease Control. In global initiatives to monitor emerging viruses and to contain outbreaks when they’re small. In planning and infrastructure to rapidly manufacture and fairly distribute a vaccine when it’s desperately needed.

All of this costs money. Sometimes the benefits are not obvious in the short term. But after Ebola fades from the headlines, we should remember that the next killer virus might be just around the corner. Dollars invested today will save lives tomorrow.

Interested in emerging viruses? I recommend:
Nonfiction: THE COMING PLAGUE by Laurie Garrett. The definitive work on the past and future of new infectious diseases.

Fiction: REVERSION by Amy Rogers. A rabies virus undergoes a natural genetic recombination event and starts spreading through the air.

End the complacency.

Educate. Vaccinate. Fund.

Click here to read part 2: Influenza. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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New release book meta-review: REVERSION by Amy Rogers

“If you like fast paced thrillers so realistic they’ll make you want to move to a bunker, then you’ve found your novel.” presents a compilation of book reviews of REVERSION by Amy Rogers. Yes, that’s me, which is why I didn’t write any of the review excerpts shown below.


(extraordinary; top 10-15% of SciThri)

Publication date: November 10, 2014
Category: science thriller; medical thriller
Tech rating (out of 5; what does this mean?):



Rabies kills. Can it also cure?

Dr. Tessa Price knows what it’s like to lose a child to an inherited genetic disease. To spare another mother this pain, she invents a radical new gene therapy that might save the life of seven-year-old Gunnar Sigrunsson. Unable to get regulatory approval to treat Gunnar in the US, she takes her clinical trial to the Palacio Centro Medico, a resort-like hospital on a Mexican peninsula where rich medical tourists get experimental treatments that aren’t available anywhere else.

When the hospital is taken over by a brutal drug cartel, Tessa hides with a remarkable trio of Palacio clients—rich Texan Lyle Simmons, his much-younger Brazilian girlfriend, and his protection dog, a German shepherd named Dixie, only to learn that gangsters aren’t the only deadly threat they face. A rabies-like infection that began in the Palacio’s research chimpanzees has spread to humans. Tessa investigates and finds a shocking connection to her gene therapy experiment. In the wake of this discovery, Tessa must weigh the value of one human life against another—including her own.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve read a lot of science-themed fiction. In case you didn’t know, I’m not only a critic, I’m an author too, and I’m delighted to announce the release of Reversion, my second science thriller novel (Petroplague came out in 2011). If you enjoy the kinds of books featured here at, I guarantee you’ll love Reversion. But don’t take my word for it. Here are excerpts of what other genre fans have to say.

What critics are saying about Reversion:

“Her expertise lends such verisimilitude to her stories that you may want to lock yourself into an environmentally safe bubble. If you like the types of thrillers Michael Crichton writes, let’s just say that Amy Rogers is going to give him a run for his money!”

“This thriller is loaded with medical terminology and futuristic science, but not in a way that thriller devotees would find off-putting. Anyone who can slog through Tom Clancy’s techno-fests should breeze right through the medical experiments gone awry in this story…

{Reversion features} a well-trained German Shepherd named Dixie. Instead of posting excerpts as proof of the dog’s greatness, I’ll just say she’s one of the best protagonists in a thriller, ever. #GottaLoveDixie, as I’d say on Twitter…

This novel is as smart as it is lurid. The prose is tightly crafted. Every little event holds some significance. What it is, the reader cannot guess until the story unfolds. Gradually, inexorably, we begin to see how everything happens for a reason.” Carol Kean, Perihelion SF Magazine

“The science is a consistent presence, easy to understand, enriching the story. A smart, tightly written, scary science thriller.” Kirkus Reviews

“Once again, Amy Rogers has created a gripping story that parallels the headlines we read in the papers.” Morgan Mussell,

“This book grabs you at the very first paragraph and doesn’t let go! Amy Rogers has been compared to several other well known authors but I honestly don’t see that, she’s a force to be reckoned with and a writing style all her own.” GoodReads reviewer

“I am one of the first to complain about the rigorous regulatory oversight that goes with the territory of research and medicine, but after reading Amy Rogers’ Reversion, I might bite my tongue the next time I open my mouth to complain. Reversion is a fun medical thriller that not only gives you a great ride but also provides food for thought on the trials and tribulations of doing clinical trials in third world countries. It also raises awareness over the use of viruses in drug therapy especially viruses that may be pathogenic if they revert to a more lethal form, such as the rabies virus.” A Thrill a Week

Reversion illustrates multiple ethical dilemmas such as the loss of subjectivity in clinical trials, for-profit medicine, and primate research. In addition, experiments inherently have some error. What effect does the power of nature have on error? The power of nature is a great theme, and was also portrayed in Dr. Rogers’ first well-done book, Petroplague. But Reversion is a more mature read, in content, and in story construction.” The Febrile Muse

“Rogers artfully blends science and suspense in this top-notch thriller. Fans of Michael Palmer and Robin Cook novels will love this book.” Brian Andrews, author of The Calypso Directive

Reversion has everything I love about science thrillers: an exotic setting, a brilliant protagonist, a terrifying villain, and a story that takes readers on a wild ride across the frontiers of science. It’s a fun, frightening and memorable novel.” Mark Alpert, Scientific American editor and author of Extinction

Still not convinced? Click here to read an excerpt.


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New release: JURASSIC DEAD by Rick Chesler

ST: I just saw that science thriller writer Rick Chesler has a new release. Part SciThri, part horror, loads of fun, JURASSIC DEAD combines extremophile microbiology with–zombie dinosaurs.

Jurassic Dead by Rick Chesler

An Antarctic research team hoping to study microbial organisms in an underground lake discovers something far more amazing: perfectly preserved dinosaur corpses. After one thaws and wakes ravenously hungry, it becomes apparent that death, like life, will find a way.

Environmental activist Alex Ramirez, son of the expedition’s paleontologist, came to Antarctica to defend the organisms from extinction, but soon learns that it is the human race that needs protecting.

“JURASSIC DEAD is a wild collision of modern SF and oldschool horror. Over the top, inventive and scary fun!” -Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of FALL OF NIGHT and V-WARS

“Sakmyster and Chesler have crafted an taut, explosive zombie novel with Jurassic Dead. The characters are three dimensional, the plot gripping, and the action non-stop. The worst part of the book were the words The End on the last page. Because I wanted more. -Phillip Tomasso, author of THE VACCINATION TRILOGY and BLOOD RIVER

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A blacklight in the darkness: The science of Glowsticks & Halloween lights

‘Tis the season for eerie lights. At Halloween you’ll see glow-in-the-dark face paint, creepy decorations shining ghostly green under black light, and glow sticks dangling from the necks of trick-or-treaters.

These lights are different from sunlight or ordinary light bulbs. They’re low-intensity and viewed best in the dark. They’re a single color, and they’re cool to the touch.

What are they?

These “glow” lights are all examples of fluorescence. Fluorescence is a kind of light produced by a fluorescent molecule (or fluorophore) after it is charged with energy. Typically, the energy comes from electromagnetic radiation (EMR)–either visible light or short wavelength, high energy forms like ultraviolet and X-rays.

When you bombard a fluorophore with electromagnetic radiation (such as by shining a light on it), the fluorescent molecule absorbs the energy but doesn’t keep it. Instead, the fluorophore sends energy back out as EMR of a longer wavelength. In other words, it emits light of a different color.

This creates cool visual effects if the “light” used to charge the fluorophore is invisible. Black lights such as you’ll find at a Halloween store are an excellent example. Black lights are peculiar light bulbs that emit EMR in ultraviolet wavelengths that are mostly outside the range that the human eye can detect. Even when a black light is burning at full intensity, all we can see is a faint purple glow. But the energy is there, and if it shines on, say, a fluorescent skeleton decoration, the skeleton lights up. Because we can’t see the brilliance of the black light, but we can see the re-emitted light coming from the skeleton, the whole thing seems like magic.

But what about glow-in-the-dark T-shirts or watch faces that shine in total darkness?

This is another kind of fluorescence that’s properly called phosphorescence. Phosphorescence is delayed or slow fluorescence. As with fluorescence, phosphorescent substances first have to be activated by exposure to electromagnetic radiation. But instead of immediately emitting energy, they release their light gradually over time.

If you’ve ever had a glow-in-the-dark item, you’ve probably experimented with these properties of phosphorescence yourself. To get your item to glow with the highest intensity, you first have to charge it by shining a really bright light on it. The longer you charge it, the more energy it stores, and the longer it will glow later.

A third common example of fluorescence is glow sticks. Glow sticks are a clever way of packaging a fluorophore with a built-in energy source that the user can activate when ready.

As you might guess, the energy comes from a chemical reaction. Inside every glow stick is a brittle, glass-like tube that keeps two chemicals apart. When you bend a glow stick, you break the tube and the chemicals mix. They react, and the reaction releases invisible energy. The energy charges the fluorophore, and the fluorescent molecules glow.

Glow stick light is brightest at the beginning. It fades as the chemicals are used up. You can regulate the reaction rate, and the lifespan of your glow stick, using temperature. Like most chemical reactions, this one is accelerated by heat and slowed by cold. You can’t turn off a glow stick, but if you want to save some of the light for the next day, put the stick in a freezer. The reaction will slow dramatically, conserving the chemicals for later. When the stick is warmed again, the reaction will resume and the stick will brighten.

On the other hand, if you want a glow stick to stay illuminated at about the same level for the longest possible time, rather than burning brightly at first and then dimming, refrigerate it before you turn it on. This will slow the initial reaction and even out the light intensity over time.

Note that the fluorophore in a glow stick is not consumed. A glow stick will fluoresce under black light before and after it’s been used.

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Book Buzz: TOKYO KILL by Barry Lancet

At, I specialize in books that have scientific or medical content (see my post on how this is different from science fiction). But sometimes I come across a book that simply is too good not to share, even if it lies outside my technophile niche. Welcome to the Book Buzz review of TOKYO KILL.

Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet, is book #2 in an outstanding Asia-themed detective series that began last year with Lancet’s acclaimed debut Japantown (reviewed by ScienceThrillers here.)Tokyo Kill cover

Summary from the publisher:

Antiques dealer-turned-P.I. Jim Brodie matches wits with an elusive group of killers chasing a long-lost treasure that has a dangerous history.

When an elderly World War II veteran shows up unannounced at Brodie Security begging for protection, the staff thinks he’s just a paranoid old man. He offers up a story connected to the war and to Chinese Triads operating in present-day Tokyo, insisting that he and his few surviving army buddies are in danger.

Fresh off his involvement in solving San Francisco’s Japantown murders, antiques dealer Jim Brodie had returned to Tokyo for some R&R, and to hunt down a rare ink painting by the legendary Japanese Zen master Sengai for one of his clients—not to take on another case with his late father’s P.I. firm. But out of respect for the old soldier, Brodie agrees to provide a security detail, thinking it’ll be an easy job and end when the man comes to his senses.

Instead, an unexpected, brutal murder rocks Brodie and his crew, sending them deep into the realm of the Triads, Chinese spies, kendo warriors, and an elusive group of killers whose treachery spans centuries—and who will stop at nothing to complete their mission.

ScienceThrillers review: Nobody else can do what author Barry Lancet does in his Japan-themed thriller series. Lancet is an American who has lived in Japan for over twenty-five years. He has a deep understanding of Japanese culture and history, and a strong sensibility for those aspects of Japan that seem most foreign to Americans. Tokyo Kill would be a very good thriller based solely on the plot and writing. Include the fascinating cultural context which permeates the story and you’ve got a must-read thriller masterpiece.

Lancet’s cultural understanding, and knowledge of Japanese art and artifacts, shines through in his main character Jim Brodie. Brodie is, unsurprisingly, an American who lives with one foot in the US and the other in Japan. He is professionally split as well, working as both an Asian art dealer in San Francisco and manager of a Tokyo-based private security/detective company that he inherited from his father. While Brodie’s bulldog persistence in the face of danger can seem foolhardy, it is his defining trait.

Tokyo Kill is a page-turning, absorbing read with enough plot questions and twists to keep the protagonist running and the reader reading. Plenty of thriller authors create books that do this. What makes Tokyo Kill special is the “mysterious Orient.” This book is a fine example of setting as character. Tokyo Kill could not take place in another city, much less another country, without eviscerating the story. Japanese culture and history are integral to the characters and the plot. The fate of Japanese soldiers (and war criminals) after WWII; looted treasures from the last emperor of China; the role of women in Japanese law enforcement; the importance of status relationships; the culture of kendo fighting; tea drinking; the history of swordmaking in Japan; all these are important. When Jim Brodie is led through the back alleys of Tokyo’s Chinatown, and when he dines with a dangerous spy in an elite Tokyo restaurant, the author’s vivid descriptions will transport you to this fascinating country far away.

Tokyo Kill is an intelligent, engrossing thriller novel with a sinuous plot leading from Tokyo to the Caribbean. Readers with even a passing interest in Japanese culture will love this book. If you eat sushi, read Tokyo Kill.

Purchase Tokyo Kill from: amazon; iTunes

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Top 25 science / STEM contests for kids 2014-2015 is proud to compile this list of the year’s top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contests and competitions for the 2014-2015 school year. Please share, tweet, re-post this list to parents, educators, potential sponsors and judges.

Encourage–heck, force–your kid to participate the same way you’d push for attendance at that out-of-town soccer game. Help your niece, nephew, grandchild, or the neighbor kid complete a science project. Volunteer to work at your local science fair; if you’re a scientist, technician, or engineer, volunteer to be a judge or mentor a team at your neighborhood school. Make a donation or sponsor a special award. Get involved to support STEM education!

New to the ScienceThrillers List this year (2014-2015): #2 Exploravision and #12 MathCounts Video Challenge

Not your ordinary science fair:

1. The DuPont Challenge: Every kid with access to a computer should enter this one.

  • Science essay writing contest (700-1000 words on the science topic of your choice in broad categories of food, energy, environment, and innovation)
  • Grades 6-12 (junior & senior divisions) students in U.S. and Canada
  • Prizes: expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World & the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, plus thousands of dollars
  • Online entry dates: November 15, 2014-January 31, 2015
  • Science story writing contest for grades K-5 (new this year); entry dates are November 1, 2014-March 1, 2015

2. ExploraVision: ExploraVision is a science competition that goes beyond the typical student science competition and into what it takes to bring ideas to reality. Students work in groups to simulate real research and development. A teacher will guide his or her students as they pick a current technology, research it, envision what it might look like in 20 years, and describe the development steps, pros & cons, and obstacles. Past winners have envisioned technologies ranging from a hand-held food allergen detector to a new device to help people who have lost limbs regain movement in real time.

  • K-12 students in US and Canada in public, private, or home school
  • 2-4 students per team; four age categories
  • Entry deadline: January
  • Entry consists of an abstract, project description, bibliography, and 5 web pages
  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association

3. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Deadline for submitting your Investor Pitch is November 4, 2014. Accepted abstracts will be invited to submit full proposal.

  •  Team event, ages 13-18. Challenges high school students to create innovative new commercial products using STEM. Open to students worldwide.
  • Challenge: conceptualize a solution in one of these areas: aerospace & aviation; energy & environment; cybersecurity & technology; health & nutrition; giant leap to Mars
  • Initial entry is Investor Pitch & Video. Entries chosen for semifinals work in prototype development and submit a Draft Development business Plan
  • Teams compete for the opportunity to attend Innovation Summit and share an anticipated $500,000+ in awards including: seed funding grants, investment opportunities, patent support, business services, scholarships and other opportunities (as provided by our partners and sponsors) to grow their solution into a real business.

4. US FIRST Robotics & Tech Programs: World-wide eligibility. You’ve probably seen winners of these competitions featured in the media.

  • Jr. FIRST Lego League: For kids ages 6-9. Team event. Event season is now until April 2014. Learn about this year’s challenge (Natural Disasters) and use LEGOs to build a simple machine around this topic.
  • FIRST Lego League: For kids ages 9-14 (grades 4-8). Team event. Season starts in the fall. Design, build, program, test robots using LEGO Mindstorms technology.
  • FIRST Tech Challenge: For grades 7-12. Big scholarship prizes at stake.

FTC is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head to head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. The robot kit is reusable from year-to-year and is programmed using a variety of languages. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as for community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

The varsity Sport for the MindTM, FRC combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.  It’s as close to “real-world engineering” as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.

5. 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Challenge (2015 event coming soon)

  • U.S. students in grades 5-8
  • To enter, students need to submit a 1-2 minute video which describes a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem related to: [1] the way we move; [2] the way we keep ourselves healthy; or [3] the way we make a difference. {These topics may change for this year’s Challenge.}
  • Ten finalists will be mentored by 3M scientists and win a trip to 3M headquarters in Minnesota
  • First place wins $25,000. All finalists win a Discovery Student Adventures trip
  • Contest entries accepted December to April

6. Team American Rocketry Challenge: Teams design, build and fly a model rocket that reaches a specific altitude and duration determined by a set of rules developed each year. The contest is designed to encourage students to study math and science and pursue careers in aerospace. The top 100 teams, based on local qualification flights, are invited to Washington, DC in May for the national finals. Prizes include $60,000 in cash and scholarships split between the top 10 finishers. NASA invites top teams to participate in their Student Launch Initiative, an advanced rocketry program. AIA member companies, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have sponsored additional prizes such as scholarship money and a trip to an international air show.

  • Teams of 3-10 students in grades 7-12
  • Enter your team before December 12, 2014

7. eCyberMission: is a web-based STEM competition free for students in grades 6 through 9 sponsored by the U.S. Army. Teams can compete for state, regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their community.

  • Registration deadline: December 17, 2014
  • 3 or 4 student members from the same state with an adult team advisor
  • Team chooses one category of “mission challenge”, asks a question, and tests it using scientific method
  • 1/5 of final score is based on project’s potential benefit to the community
  • Virtual judges also needed. Can you volunteer?

8. Science Olympiad: School-based teams of 15 students in grades 6-12 who prepare, coach, and practice throughout the year. There is also an elementary division for K-6 teams. 9. The Tech Challenge: This is an awesome program with tons of support (workshops and clinics throughout the preparation process) but everything is at The Tech Museum of Innovation in Silicon Valley (San Jose, CA) so contest is effectively restricted to Bay Area teams.

  • The Tech Challenge is an annual team design challenge for students in grades 4-12 that introduces and reinforces the science and engineering design process with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem.
  • Teams of 2-6 people compete in three divisions: Elementary (grades 4-6), Middle (grades 7-8), High (grades 9-12)
  • Event Day is Saturday, April 25-26, 2015 at the Tech Museum.
  • This year’s challenge: Build an earthquake-safe structure

Math & Technology competitions:

10. Future City: “The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ 4 Deluxe software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February.” This year’s topic (2014-15): Feeding Future Cities. National finals in Washington DC (travel paid by Future City!) are February 14-18, 2015.

  • Educators can do the program without competing if they wish. Teams of 3 students + educator + engineer mentor. More students can participate but only three will present.
  • 1. Register in October; 2. Design virtual city in SimCity4 3. Draft essay 4. Work on building scale model of city 5. Write city narrative 6. Submissions

11. MathCounts Competition Series: Enrichment, club, and competition math programs for middle school U.S. students (grades 6-8). National competition is a major event held in May; 12 students vie for title of Raytheon Mathlete Champion

  • Enroll your school online now to get your MathCounts handbook (early deadline: November 14, 2014; final deadline: December 12, 2014). Homeschools are eligible. Club program is free. Competition teams of 1-4 students: fee $25-$100.
  • Competitions begin in January

MathCounts also offers a Solve-A-Thon fundraising program for school math programs. Great idea–check it out here. 12. MathCounts Math Video Challenge: Empowers students to be math teachers, video producers, actors and artists – all at the same time! Students create a video that teaches the solution to one of the problems from the 2014-2015 MATHCOUNTS School Handbook, and also demonstrates the real-world application of the math concept used in the problem. View previous winners here.

  • Teams of 4 students
  • Grades 6-8
  • Video less than 5 minutes in length
  • Video entry deadline: March 13, 2015
  • Winning students win college scholarships

13. National STEM Video Game Challenge: “Goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passion for playing and making video games.” No programming experience required. Competitors may use a variety of game design platforms including Scratch, Gamestar Mechanic, and others

  •  Categories for middle school (grades 5-8) and high school. Also prizes for educators. Homeschoolers are eligible.
  • To enter, you or your team of up to 4 people must design a “video game” (defined at the site) that incorporates STEM learning
  • Game can be fully programmed and playable (in one of the platforms suggested) or submitted as detailed written game design documents
  • Entry dates for this year TBD; last year entries were accepted from February to April
  • Prizes: laptop computers + $2000

14. Microsoft’s Imagine Cup: For budding tech entrepreneurs. Three technology competitions for high school & university students worldwide. Imagine Cup World Finals 2015 will be in Seattle. Contests:

  • Code Hunt Challenge: 24-hour intense individual coding event. Next challenge begins October 18, 2014 with more to come
  • Games: Ages 16 and up. Teams of up to 4 competitors. Final submissions deadline March 15, 2015. Best new student game. $50,000 prize.
  • InnovationIncredible, world-changing software innovations often come from students. Social networks, music services, digital photography apps, gadgets and robotics – the list goes on. We’re looking for the next big thing and we know students like you are going to make it. Top team wins $50,000.

15. M3 Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: Math competition to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on a real-world issue. Top prize $20,000.

  • High school juniors & seniors in 45 U.S. states only. (Should go nationwide in 2016.) Homeschoolers eligible.
  • Teams of 3-5 students have 14 hours over one weekend to do the problem; prepare by working on problems from previous years
  • Last year, registration began November 2013 and ended February 2014

16. Technology Student Association TEAMS: Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is an annual competition for middle and high school students designed to help them discover their potential for engineering. Open to homeschoolers. During this one-day competition (sometime between Feb. 9-March 21, 2015), students apply math and science knowledge in practical, creative ways to solve real-world engineering challenges. The 2015 TEAMS competition, “The Power of Engineering,” is based on the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge “energy.”  Students will address engineering challenges in areas such as alternative fuels, solar power, hydropower, nuclear power, smart homes, wind energy. Events are held at universities around the U.S. National finals June 28-July 2, 2015, near Dallas, TX. TEAMS take a multiple choice test to apply math and science to novel situations, then offer ideas for engineering solutions in response to five tasks.

17. NASA Exploration Design Challenge. “The goal of the Exploration Design Challenge is for students to research and design ways to protect astronauts from space radiation.” Not sure if this event will be repeated in 2015. 2014 entry deadline was in June.

  • Challenges for grades K-4, 5-8, 9-12
  • Classroom based (would work for homeschool, too)
  • Design and build a prototype radiation shield

Traditional science fair competitions:

Science fairs were a crucial formative experience for me.  I’m competitive by nature but not interested in sports. I loved science and I was smart. Science fairs were a perfect match for me. Competing in three ISEFs truly changed my life. (Thank you, Minnesota State University SC/SW Regional Science Fair–so happy to see you’re still honoring kids with a passion for science!)

18. Intel International Science and Engineering Fairs (ISEF) and their affiliated regional fairs are the granddaddies of the science fair world. I can only summarize this massive global enterprise and direct you to the website of the sponsor, Society for Science and the Public.

  • Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to compete in affiliated regional fairs
  • Individuals or small teams perform a real scientific investigation (sometimes engineering, math, or computer programming) with well-designed experiments following the scientific method. This can be from the most basic level (such as, testing effect of water on seed germination) to the most advanced (ISEF national winners often have worked in university laboratories on cutting-edge science).
  • Check your regional fair’s website for deadlines. Regulations for use of human subjects, chemicals, etc. are quite strict and most projects require pre-approval as early as December, but certainly before the student starts work.

Broadcom MASTERS competition is part of the ISEF enterprise, a kind of junior ISEF. Top winners in grades 6-8 at ISEF-affiliated regional science fairs are nominated to enter their work in Broadcom MASTERS. Entry is by nomination only. Semifinalists are announced in August/September from the previous school year. 19.  Siemens Competition. Siemens is open to grades 9-12. Project entry deadline: Sept. 30, 2014. (Research must be done to enter, so plan now to enter next year.) 20. The BioGENEius Challenge: For big-time high school science projects in biotechnology 21. The Google Science Fair: “an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. All you need is an idea. Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions.” As best I can tell, Google Science Fair entries are traditional science fair projects (real experiments performed using the scientific method and following all safety/ethics rules of the sponsoring fair) that the student enters online in a virtual science fair. You are allowed to enter a project that you also entered in a “real” science fair. Ideal for kids who don’t have access to an ISEF-affiliated regional fair.

  • Anybody, anywhere ages 13-18 can enter
  • No details posted yet for 2014-15; sign up to be notified
  • Awards in 3 age divisions. Big prizes: previous year’s winners won tens of thousands of dollars, media coverage, a trip to Google, and even a visit with President Obama at the White House, and a grand prize ten-day trip to the Galapagos Islands.

22. The Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair invites K-12 Canadian students to do a science project and then build a website to display their work.

  • Grades K-12 in Canadian schools
  • Registration begins January 2015

Bonus Contests:

23. Science & Art: 3rd Annual Humans in Space Art Contest

  • Open to kids 10-18 years old worldwide
  • Visual, literary, musical, or video artwork expressing vision of how will space, science, and technology benefit humanity? Must include a clear reference to the International Space Station.
  • Entry deadline: November 15, 2014.
  • Top prize: $5,000

Envirothon_Logo(1)24. Environmental Education:  North America Envirothon

  • Nationwide team competition for high school students in U.S. and Canada.
  • Teams organized in schools, homeschools, scout groups, etc.
  • In-class learning + hands-on outdoor activities to learn environmental science.
  • Topics: Soils and land use; aquatic ecology; forestry; wildlife; environmental issues. This year: sustainable local agriculture.
  • Students are tested at local competitions. National event is held in summer. (This year: July 27-August 2, 2015 Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.)
  • 2015 Topic: Urban/Community Forestry
  • Registration will open in late fall.

25. Odyssey of the Mind: A wide-ranging intellectual competition for K-12+ that includes solving problems in these categories, most of which involve STEM:

  • Mechanical/Vehicle
  • Classics
  • Performance
  • Structure
  • Technical Performance

For K-12 students in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia only:
Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research poster contest “Biomedical Research Saves Lives.” Prizes $25 and invitation to awards dinner in Hershey, PA. Entry deadline: March 15, 2015.

Discovered this one too late but will include next year: Verizon Innovative App Challenge. Entries accepted August-November 24, 2014. Working with a faculty advisor, teams of 5-7 middle or high school students develop an original concept for a mobile app that incorporates STEM principles and content and addresses a real need or problem in their school or community. Students win Galaxy Tabs; schools win thousands of dollars.

Past events that might come back: Kavli Science Video Contest. View 2014 video winners here.  The Kids Science Challenge: Sponsored by National Science Foundation, for grades 3-6. Last seen in 2012.

Do you know about another contest which should be on this list? Please leave a comment!

Please share this post! We need more kids involved in STEM.

Teachers: Combine science learning with thriller fiction. Use the PETROPLAGUE Teacher Guide to easily incorporate Dr. Amy Rogers’ page-turning eco-disaster novel Petroplague into your advanced biology or microbiology curriculum. Perfect for homeschoolers or book clubs. Learn how to virtually bring Dr. Rogers to your group.

Want to know more about how to do a science project? Need project ideas? will walk you through everything.

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