CLUSTER OF LIES: environmental science thriller by Samuel Marquis

ScienceThrillers welcomes Samuel Marquis, hydrogeologist and author of environmental science thriller Cluster of Lies. Cancer clusters are frightening and mysterious–good material for a thriller novel!

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In this second thriller in the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series, mysterious deaths are taking place in the Rocky Mountain region outside Denver, Colorado. Joe Higheagle–a full-blooded Cheyenne geologist who has recently become an overnight celebrity for bringing down a billionaire corporate polluter–is hired to investigate Dakota Ranch, where four boys have recently died from a rare form of brain cancer, and Silverado Knolls, a glitzy soon-to-be-built development. He quickly finds himself entangled in an environmental cancer cluster investigation as well as a murderous conspiracy in which friend and foe are indistinguishable and a series of seemingly impenetrable roadblocks are thrown in his path.

Real science in fiction: The power of writing what you know

Guest post by Samuel Marquis

When it comes to getting the scientific details right in fiction, the clichéd advice to “write what you know” is one of the best pieces of literary advice. Why? Because if your actual background is well-grounded in science and you can turn a proper phase, your science-based novel is going to be a hundred times more authentic than even that of a National Book Award Winner with an MFA from Harvard. And authenticity counts for a great deal to most thriller readers.

My Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series (Blind Thrust: A Mass Murder Mystery and Cluster of Lies) is based on my nearly thirty years as a professional hydrogeologist involved in environmental health risk assessments, groundwater flow and transport modeling investigations, and serving as a groundwater expert witness in class action litigation cases. The verisimilitude factor is high in the series for the simple reason that I cheat: my Cheyenne protagonist Joe Higheagle does what I do for a living. In short, he rings true to readers because he is based upon my three decades of experience in the environmental industry. I know, how unfair.

For example, my earthquake thriller Blind Thrust is specifically based on my experiences in California and Texas as a Registered Professional Geologist in assessing earthquake hazards and fault classifications on behalf of real-estate developers in environmental site assessments. Consequently, when one book reviewer read the book, he could tell at once that it was written by an industry insider: “Blind Thrust is a page-turning adventure that will hold its audience with the attention to detail only a really well-researched author can bring to the table. The science of earthquakes is fascinating, and Marquis has captured this science and packaged it into a really fine thriller ‘against the clock’ style for almost anyone to pick up and enjoy, and readers will no doubt want more from Higheagle and his intrepid grandfather once they have devoured this installment.” Not bad, right? But again, I cheated because the book is about what I do for a living.

The original inspiration for Cluster of Lies, Book 2 of the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series, was drawn from my professional experience working on the Rosamond cancer cluster case in Southern California. Think Erin Brockovich, A Civil Action, and Michael Clayton. Visiting the town, reviewing the documents on file in the local library, and interviewing the residents who had experienced the cancer cluster firsthand had a profound impact on me, and I would not have written the novel without having worked on Rosamond. Like most environmental cancer clusters, the Rosamond cancer cluster remains a mystery to this day and unresolved real-world mysteries are always a good starting point for a thriller.

In the case of Cluster of Lies, it was both my professional experience and the emotional context that provided powerful fodder for the novel. When I read the documents and worked on the project, I could not help but feel the sense of sadness, frustration, powerlessness, and anger of the families and townspeople who had been adversely impacted by the cancer cluster. The visceral emotions I felt in investigating the cluster ultimately enhanced the narrative power of the novel. Most importantly, without the combined real-world scientific and emotional experience of Rosamond, I would never have written Cluster of Lies.

Okay, so I cheated. But there’s no denying my Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series rings authentic because I took the clichéd advice to “write what I know.”

Buy Cluster of Lies from amazon

About the author:

Samuel Marquis is a bestselling, award-winning suspense author. He works by day as a VP–Principal Hydrogeologist with an environmental firm in Boulder, Colorado, and by night as the spinner of the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series, the Nick Lassiter International Espionage Series, and a World War Two Trilogy. His thrillers have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Best Book, Beverly Hills, and Next Generation Indie), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). His website is and for publicity inquiries, please contact Chelsea Apple at

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THE X CURE: Guest post by Bruce Forciea

ScienceThrillers welcomes Dr. Bruce Forciea, author of The X Cure. A pharmaceutical company employing hit men? Seems like people are willing to believe it…

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Dr. Alex Winter, a brilliant biomedical engineer, teams with Dr. Xiu Ling, a beautiful Chinese scientist, to discover a revolutionary cure for cancer. But Tando Pharmaceuticals, the world’s largest and richest drug producer, also has an interest in the cure, and when they discover that the treatment is flawed as recipients begin to die after four months, causing a media frenzy and a drop in Tando’s stock, they call upon their ‘Mercenary Soldiers of Medicine’ to maintain global domination.

The Science Behind the X-Cure

Guest post by author Bruce Forciea

In The X-Cure, a small startup battles a global pharmaceutical company in order to bring a cancer cure to the world. The story is fiction, but includes some hard science along with some popular themes based in reality.

The main character, Dr. Alex Winter, develops a device that kills cancer cells by using radio frequencies. His device is based on the mysterious Rife machine (which really existed) built by Royal Rife, an American inventor, in the 1930’s. Rife’s machine purportedly killed cancer cells by producing resonances that destroyed them. When the medical establishment rejected his cure, he blamed it on a conspiracy. Today, there are still followers of his ideas and some versions of Rife’s machine are available for purchase.

Alex falls in love with another scientist, Dr. Xiu Ling. Her work is on resveratrol, a nutrient found in grapes. Alex and Xiu discover that through combining their work, cancer can be cured. Resveratrol does indeed exist and one can buy it in health food stores. Some research supports resveratrol as an anti-aging and possible anti-cancer supplement with an epigenetic effect. Perhaps a refined or highly concentrated form of resveratrol may someday be available as an anti-aging substance.

The idea that a pharmaceutical company would attempt to sabotage a natural cure is based on the author’s experience in alternative medicine. Many alternative treatments have been disregarded by the medical establishment despite their effectiveness. Big Pharma tends to avoid developing products based on nutrients because they are classified as food substances by the FDA which decreases their profitability. The fictional evil global pharmaceutical company (Tando Pharmaceuticals) closely monitors all activity by its competitors, mainstream and alternative alike. It does so with a secret underground mercenary army of agents.

The X-Cure begins when Alex attends a conference and meets Xiu Ling. The story develops from there and includes a number of twists and turns. The story contains adventure, betrayal, spies, and an assortment of eclectic characters. Readers interested in science, science fiction and adventure should enjoy it.

My next book, Alan 2, is scheduled for release this winter. Alan 2 is about an artificial intelligence scientist who develops a method for downloading part of his brain’s neural network into a computer operating system. The program begins to cause problems on a global scale including developing a cult following.

Buy The X Cure from amazon


About the author:

Bruce Forciea is known for taking complex scientific concepts and making them easy to understand through engaging stories and simple explanations. He is an Amazon Best Selling Author and author of several books on healing and biology along with two novels. His fiction writing draws on a diverse and eclectic background that includes designing digital circuits, treating thousands of patients, and teaching. Dr. Forciea lives in Wisconsin and loves writing during the solitude of the long Northern winters.

Author’s websiteTwitter; Facebook



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THE FURIES BOG: Guest post by Deborah Jackson

ScienceThrillers welcomes Deborah Jackson author of The Furies Bog, a science fiction mystery set on both Earth and Mars. In this novel, Mars is being reborn in a massive terraforming enterprise. But a secret lies beneath its surface—evidence of an unprecedented feat of genetic engineering. Felicity Cratchett, a petite archaeology grad student, must find the link between this secret and bog bodies that have been newly discovered on Earth, before an ancient cabal tinkers with evolution and changes the face of the solar system forever.

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A bog may be Earth’s undoing, but it will be a gift to Mars.

Digging up bog bodies and analyzing corpses are the last things archaeology graduate student Felicity Cratchett wants to do. And when unusual mummies are discovered in the subpolar region of Polar Bear Provincial Park, it’s the last place she wants to go. But since her faculty advisor insists that she log more hours in fieldwork, she has little choice. In a remote bog with a small team of scientists, Felicity unearths the greatest secret of our time—a secret with ties to ancient Rome, roots in Botswana, and a link to the first people to exercise abstract thought. This revelation will challenge the conventional theory of human origins and human evolution.

Meanwhile, astronaut Lucas Wilson, a man tormented with a deep-seated anger, is terraforming Mars. He reluctantly descends to the Red Planet’s surface with his fellow astronauts, preparing to direct their exploration. Mars, in its birth pangs, will challenge every step he takes, with gas explosions and raging rivers, with damaged fuel processors and limited oxygen supplies. In the midst of these disasters, Lucas must keep his companions from discovering a feat of genetic engineering that will transform Mars like nothing has in over a billion years. The double helix of this masterwork twists all the way back to Earth and Felicity’s mummies. But if he fails, Lucas must decide whether to take up Mars’s sword, or to cast the weapon into a bog.

Our Future Depends on Genetic Engineering (and exploration)

Guest post by Deborah Jackson

You may be thinking, yet another story about genetic engineering that leads to the release of mutated organisms that destroy the Earth and remake Mars, right? Or a similar plot to that cheesy movie The Red Planet, where organisms become pathogens? The Furies’ Bog does explore genetic engineering, but not in the same “dire warning” fashion that so many other stories do. There are definitely some instances where tinkering with DNA can lead to adverse effects. But we ignore the exciting potential and benefits of this technology to our peril. Disease- and drought-resistant crops increase food production and will hopefully stave off mass starvation as our world becomes more populated. We are in the process of producing clean energy by reprogramming organisms such as E. coli. New antibiotics. Disease eradication. The list is endless.

But, for a novel to excite you, it must have drama. Change is inevitable, particularly when you think of DNA, where substitutions and mutations occur daily as cells reproduce. So I’ve introduced a potential change, and a guardian at the gate, and a substantial amount of raw science for you to consider. Altering genetic codes is not evil in and of itself. It all depends on how it’s used, who uses it, and what their real intention is. Hence, drama. And, of course, there is the case for where it’s used . . .

Why Mars? Well, the future is in the stars, if we live long enough. We will begin colonizing Mars within the next few decades, according to Elon Musk. Once again, like Columbus and Cartier and Shackleton, we are explorers, charging into the unknown and exposing our frail bodies to harsh conditions. And Mars will be the next link in the human chain. Perhaps it was the first one too (referring to the theory of Panspermia). We may be perfectly content to stay on Earth, conserving resources, reducing our footprint, or utilizing genetic engineering to sustain our population, but very few humans are perfectly content. And I believe, in order for our species to achieve fulfillment, our reach must always exceed our grasp. But can we really survive on such a desolate planet? Only if we consider some alterations.

When Watson and Crick broke the DNA code, they uncapped a genie in a bottle. When the Human Genome Project mapped our DNA, they launched a new era. It’s an era of microscopic and macroscopic exploration. We must step forward, cautiously, but determinedly, into this exciting New World.

Buy The Furies Bog from amazon

© Studio G. R. Martin photography copyrighted images made in Ontario, Canada

© Studio G. R. Martin photography
copyrighted images
made in Ontario, Canada

About the author:

Deborah Jackson received a science degree from the University of Ottawa in 1986, graduated from the Winghill Writing School in Ottawa in 2001, and is the author of several science fiction and historical fiction novels. Deborah is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and SF Canada. Her novels include Ice Tomb and Sinkhole, adult science fiction thrillers, the Time Meddlers series for children, ages 9–14 (Time Meddlers, Time Meddlers Undercover and Time Meddlers on the Nile), and the eerie ghost story, Mosaic. Articles about Deborah and reviews of her books have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, MORE Magazine, RT BOOKclub Magazine, Canadian Teacher Magazine, SF Site, Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine, and many more.

Visit Deborah’s website


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BLACK RAIN science fiction thriller by Matthew BJ Delaney

A publicist told me about Black Rain, a new science fiction thriller by Matthew B.J. Delaney published by 47North. It’s more speculative (soft SF) than what I typically feature at, but it sounds like fun.

Wanna read it for free? Enter the book giveaway of a paper copy of Black Rain below.

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In a darkly warped near future, lucrative disease cures are brokered on Wall Street’s Genetic Stock Exchange. And the hottest consumer products are artificially synthesized humans that serve as everything from domestic slaves to combatants in savage gladiatorial games. For Jack Saxton, the young heir to genetic design powerhouse Genico Inc., these Synthates are just a fact of life…until the murder of a high-profile genetic scientist leads a pair of seasoned NYPD detectives to Genico’s door.

As a small band of Synthate rebels steps up its attack on the status quo, Jack encounters a pleasure-parlor girl who opens his eyes to their cause. When he dares to sympathize with the rebels, Jack is hunted down and arrested for the murder. Sentenced to die in the brutal games on Bloomberg Island, Jack will be forced to fight—for his life, for the future of all Synthates, and for a chance to uncover the mind-bending secret buried in his past.

Matthew DelaneyAbout the author:

Matthew B.J. Delaney published his first novel, Jinn, in 2003. Winner of the International Horror Guild Award, the novel was optioned for film by Touchstone Pictures, was featured as People magazine’s Page-Turner of the Week, and received a Publishers Weekly Starred Review.

Delaney received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Dartmouth College and a master’s in public administration from Harvard. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, he left a career in finance and moved from Boston to New York City to join the New York City Police Department. He has been a member of the NYPD for twelve years and has been assigned to precincts throughout Manhattan and the Bronx as well as within police headquarters and the Intelligence Division. He is currently a decorated Special Operations Lieutenant serving in a Brooklyn violent crime suppression unit. He continues to write in his spare time.

Buy Black Rain from amazon

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An excerpt from the text (courtesy of publisher):

Arden and Sanders drove south on the FDR. The East River flickered with the lights of wave power farms and, beyond that, the thin strip of Roosevelt Island, the Genico Synthate Factory visible at the southern tip.

“That the grow garden?” Sanders flashed an image on his sync. Arden navigated around an acid scrubber.

“One of them.”

“So why did Dr. Reynolds have such a special interest in Synthates?”

“Pride in your work. Get attached. I don’t know.”

They exited the highway near Wall Street. Ahead the great sky turbine structure of Genico slowly rotated in the wind. Most of the lights were off this late at night. They pulled along a front lined with Synthate shops and were met by a woman in a white lab tech coat. She had an identification tag clipped to her front pocket.

Elsie Woods, Genico Laboratories.

Continue reading

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THE SHOOTER ACT: Guest post by Turner Tomlinson

ScienceThrillers welcomes Turner Tomlinson, chemical engineer and author of The Shooter Act, a thriller that delves into the mechanics and programming likely to be deployed behind autonomous vehicles.

Self-drive yourself to enter the book giveaway of a paper copy of The Shooter Act below!

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A man has taken over terminal 4 in LAX. He’s pulled his gun out and forced everyone to take pictures of him—of what he’s wearing. The QR codes he has pinned to his shirt all link to different web addresses, and as the pictures spread across social media, the world begins to pour over his manifesto. The Shooter has just transformed himself into an information virus.

But as soon as he pulled the trigger he also became something else: the newest target of The Shooter Act. If they catch him, they’ll erase him form history, systematically deleting all record that he ever existed.

The man with the gun knows this especially well because he’s one of the people who helped get the law passed. That’s why it has to be him. He’s the only one who might be able to convince everyone that the law has gone too far, and that it’s being used to hide a murder that implicates some of the most powerful people in the world.

What if the computers of self-driving cars covered up murder?

Guest post by Turner Tomlinson

There’s no doubt we’re on our way to ubiquitous autonomous car travel. If the legislation can keep up with some of the fleet-of-foot manufacturing companies getting involved (Google, Tesla) it’s going to be here sooner than anyone would guess.

In my book The Shooter Act, I explore some of the problems with moving the timetable up so aggressively. The story takes place on the fringe of the future of autonomous cars: the transition period in which the roads are still used by 85-90% traditional internal combustion vehicles. The industry has moved very quickly, and on the way they’ve made mistakes.

Enter Jack Paulson, who has uncovered a mysterious cover-up around a string of autonomous car crashes. There are people in jail for manslaughter – the black boxes in the autocars say they had them in manual during the collisions – but they claim that the car was under control during the crash. Of course, it’s their word against a billion-dollar company’s, so you can guess how that ends up for them. What’s more, Jack discovers something more troubling: a junior level programmer from within the autocar company seems to have found a problem in the operating system that caused the crashes, and she has since been murdered.

In The Shooter Act, we find Jack when he is left with no options. Or rather, left with only one bad option. He gets a gun and he pulls it out in LAX in a desperate attempt to get the world’s attention. He’s prepared several websites with all the data he’s collected on the cover-up, and while he’s holding up LAX, his manifesto spreads like wildfire. Quickly, the world learns what Jack wants: he’s recruited three strangers to investigate the auto-car collisions and find out why the cars are crashing.

And so the three strangers – a lawyer, an autocar mechanic, and a forensic engineer – must work together to figure out why the cars are crashing. Due to a controversial law – The Shooter Act – Jack and all of his motives for pulling the gun out will be erased from history after the situation from LAX is under control, and so our three strangers may only have hours to try to prove Jack’s theories. From across time zones, they will have to formulate experiments, crunch massive amounts of data, and steal source code for the flagship autocar to try and figure out why the cars have been crashing.

The science of the book is in the design and implementation of autocar technology: how will they work? What could make them fail? More importantly, if they’re designed wrong and the company which wrote the code has updated the problems out of the operating system by the time you get there, how can you ever hope to prove anything?

Read the first chapter here.

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Top science / STEM contests for kids 2016-2017, the only website dedicated to page-turning fiction with real science, is proud to compile the internet’s most comprehensive list of 2016-2017’s top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contests and competitions. Please share, tweet, re-post this list to parents, educators, potential sponsors and judges.

Encourage your kid to participate. 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!

K-12 eligible:

1. The DuPont ChallengeScience essay writing contest. Just announced in September that after 30 years, this contest in honor of the space shuttle Challenger crew has been discontinued.

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: February 6, 2017
  • Entry consists of an abstract, project description, bibliography, and 5 web pages
  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba
  • Prizes include travel and thousands of dollars in savings bonds
  • View summary brochure

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

  • FIRST Lego League Jr.: For kids ages 6-10. Team event. Event season is now until April 2017. This year’s theme is “Creature Craze” (the animal kingdom). Kids use basic engineering concepts to build a model made of LEGO elements. They will also present information through a Show Me Poster.
  • FIRST Lego League: For kids grades 4-8. Team event. This pdf is a nice summary. Season starts in the fall. This year’s theme: Animal Allies. Identify a problem when people and animals interact. Design a solution. Share with others.
  • FIRST Tech Challenge: For grades 7-12, teams of 10+ members. Big scholarship prizes at stake. Kickoff on September 10, 2016.

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.

Combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. We call FIRST Robotics Competition the ultimate Sport for the Mind. High-school student participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of 20 or more students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded 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. Each season ends with an exciting FIRST Championship.

4. Science Olympiad: School-based team competitive science tournaments for K-12.

  • Elementary Science Olympiad (K-6) (Division A) Wide-ranging, hands-on content using kids’ natural curiosity. Host an all-building Science Olympiad Fun Day. Can be used as a feeder program for middle school Science Olympiad. Some people even use the content for birthday parties!
  • Grades 6-9 (Division B): Up to 15 students allowed per team. Here are the events for 2017.
  • Grades 9-12 (Division C): Up to 15 students per team. Division C events 2017

5. National STEM Video Game Challenge: Grades 5-12; Solo or small team.

  • 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 are different from most other competitions, which match the school year. For this one, last year they STARTED accepting entries in April, with a deadline in August.
  • Prizes: laptop computers + $2000

6. American Statistical Association poster and project competitions: Grades K-12

  • Poster competition for K-12; entry deadline April 1
  • Project competition for grades 7-12; entry deadline June 1
  • “A statistical project is the process of answering a research question using statistical techniques and presenting the work in a written report.”
  • “A statistical poster is a display containing two or more related graphics that summarize a set of data, look at the data from different points of view, and answer specific questions about the data.”
  • Cash prizes in the hundreds of dollars

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

  • Each year, five new competitive problems are presented for the teams to solve. These long-term problems are solved over weeks and months. Some of the problems are more technical in nature, while others are artistic or performance based.
  • Worldwide
  • Find dates for coaches training in your state/country here. Most are in September.
  • Categories: Mechanical/Vehicle; Classics; Performance; Structure;Technical Performance

8. EngineerGirl Essay Contest: Grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

  • Individual contest; open to girls and boys
  • Write an essay describing a promising new technology (see website for details)
  • Deadline: February 1
  • Cash prizes

For middle school only:

9. 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Challenge

  • U.S. students in grades 5-8
  • Submit entry December-April
  • 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
  • Finalists announced June-July

10. 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 7, 2016
  • Project submission deadline: February 22, 2017
  • 3 or 4 student members in the same grade and state, with an adult team advisor. US citizens or permanent residents only.
  • Team chooses one category of “mission challenge”, asks a question, and tests it using scientific method. Basically an online science fair with lots of structure.
  • 1/5 of final score is based on project’s potential benefit to the community
  • Virtual judges and other volunteers needed. Can you help?

11. Junior Solar Sprint: Grades 5-8

  • “free educational program for 5th through 8th grade students where students design, build and race solar powered cars using hands-on engineering skills and principles of science and math.”
  • Timeline: late fall, webinars and local training for teachers and students; January-March: build cars; spring: competitions

12. Future City: Grades 6-8 

  • A national, project-based learning experience where students imagine, design, and build cities of the future that showcase their solution to a citywide sustainability issue.
  • Students (up to three) work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models; 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, travel expenses paid.
  • This year’s topic (2016-17): Power of Public Space.
  • 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.
  • Register by October 31, 2016

13. mathcounts MathCounts Competition Series: Grades 6-8. Live, in person, competitive math contests.

  • School, chapter, state and national contests. 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 18, 2016; final deadline: December 16, 2016). Homeschools are eligible. Club program is free. Competition teams of 1-4 students: fee $25-$100.
  • Competitions begin in January

14. MathCounts Math Video Challenge: Grades 6-8, through schools or non-school groups. Free.

  • Students develop their math, communication, and technology skills in a collaborative video project. Must solve a math problem from this year’s handbook and show a real-world application of the math concept used in the problem. Link to FAQ.
  • Teams of four
  • Video less than five minutes
  • Video entry deadline: February 13, 2017

15.BrightSchools_NSF_NSTABright Schools competition: Grades 6-8; teams of 2-4

  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association
  • “The goal of the Bright Schools program is to create a learning experience that will help students, parents and teachers better understand the link between light, sleep and student health and performance. Through the Bright Schools competition, students in grades 6-8 will select a topic related to light and sleep and select one of three exploration options (developing a prototype, creating an awareness campaign or writing a research proposal) to create an original project.
  • Submissions due February 6, 2017
  • Cash prizes up to $5,000 per student

For grades 7-12:

16. Team American Rocketry Challenge: Teams of 3-10 students in grades 7-12

  • Design, build and fly a model rocket that reaches a specific altitude and duration determined by a set of rules developed each year. (This year: carry two raw eggs to an altitude of 850 feet and return uncracked within 44-46 seconds)
  • 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 $100,000 in cash and scholarships split between the top 10 finishers. Overall winning team will travel to United Kingdom to compete in International Rocketry Challenge at the Farnborough Air Show in July.
  • Enter your team before December 2, 2016

verizon17. Verizon Innovative App Challenge: Grades 6-12, teams of 5-7 students

  • Registration opens in August
  • Submission deadline is November 18, 2016
  • The app challenge is a nationwide contest in which students are challenged to develop concepts for mobile apps that solve a problem in their community. It’s a unique, hands-on activity that teaches collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and entrepreneurship, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills and coding.
  • Prizes: up to $20,000 and chance to work with app development experts from MIT

18. sciencebowlNational Science Bowl: Grades 6-8 and 9-12

  • Teams of 4-5 students
  • School-based. Regional competitions feed into national event (all expenses paid to Washington, DC in April)
  • “The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl® is a nationwide academic competition that tests students’ knowledge in all areas of science and mathematics. Middle and high school student teams from diverse backgrounds are comprised of four students, one alternate, and a teacher who serves as an advisor and coach. These teams face-off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format, being tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy, and math.”

19. Technology Student Association TEAMS: Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is an annual competition for Grades 7-12 students to discover engineering and how engineering can help make a difference in the world.  Students work collaboratively to solve real-world engineering challenges, applying their math and science skills in practical, creative ways.

  • Teams of 4-8 students
  • Open to any group or organization (homeschoolers, Scouts, 4H, etc.)
  • Register online starting in September
  • One-day competition (sometime between Feb. 13-March 19, 2017) includes essay and multiple choice test and hands-on build. The 2017 TEAMS competition “Engineering the Environment” focus on topics such as geothermal heat pumps and wastewater treatment.
  • Events are held at schools and universities around the U.S.
  • National finals June 21-25, 2017 Orlando, FL. 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.

20. World of 7 Billion video contest: Grades 6-12

  • Create a short video – up to 60 seconds – about human population growth that highlights one of the following global challenges: Climate Change, Ocean Health, or Rapid Urbanization. All videos must include a) how population growth impacts the issue and b) at least one idea for a sustainable solution.
  • Entry deadline February 23, 2017
  • Cash prizes in multiple divisions

21. Science without Borders Art Challenge: Ages 11-19. International.

  • Purpose: to get students and teachers more involved and interested in ocean conservation through various forms of art. This annual contest inspires students to be creative while using different types of media to promote public awareness of the need to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources
  • Submission deadline: April

22. Technovation Challenge: Teams of girls only. Worldwide.

  • Challenges girls all over the world to build a mobile app that will address a community problem
  • Depends on volunteers coaches/mentors; volunteers needed
  • Middle school (age 14 and under) and high school (age 18 and under) divisions
  • Top teams win $10,000 and trip to San Francisco
  • Registration begins in October

23. Engineering For You video contest: Happened in 2016, not sure if it is annual

24. isefIntel 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.

Traditional science fairs like these require students to perform actual research / do experiments. Many other contests in this list are more “thought experiments.”

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!)

  • Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to compete in affiliated regional fairs. ISEF itself is for high school students only.
  • 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.
  • ISEF is May 14-19, 2017 in Los Angeles. Volunteers needed. Local/regional fairs always need qualified judges. Find your local fair and volunteer.
  • 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.

25. google The Google Science Fair: Ages 13-18, worldwide

  •  “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.
  • Individual or team entries (up to three students per entry)
  • Entries begin in February; close in May
  • 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 to the White House, and a grand prize ten-day trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Only for high school (grades 9-12) and up:

26. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Team event (2-5 kids) for high school students, ages 13-18.

  • Season is September through April
  • Choose one of four categories: Aerospace & Aviation, Energy & Environment, Cyber Technology and Security, and Health & Nutrition
  • Challenges high school students to create innovative product or service that solves a real-world problem in their chosen industry. Open to students worldwide.
  • Initial entry is Investor Pitch and video, conducted online (deadline: early November). 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.

Envirothon_Logo(1)27. NCF-Envirothon: Grades 9-12. Teams of five.

  • 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.
  • Key topics: soils/land use; aquatic ecology; forestry; wildlife. 2017 focus: Agricultural soil and water conservation
  • Students are tested at local competitions. National event is five-day competition held July 23-29, 2017. Hosted at a different location each year.
  • Registration will open in late fall.

28.  Microsoft’s Imagine Cup: Ages 16 and up. Global. For budding tech entrepreneurs, teams of up to four. Three technology competitions for high school & university students worldwide. Imagine Cup World Finals 2016 will be in Seattle in July. Huge cash prizes. Contests:

  • Code Hunt Challenge: 24-hour intense individual coding event. Next challenge begins April (probably). Play/practice any time at
  • Games: Best new game made by students. $50,000 prize.
  • Innovation: “Incredible, 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.
  • Competitions begin in September; final submissions deadline March 15

29. CubeSat Competition: Grades 9-12, US and abroad *2016 event over; uncertain if it will be repeated*

  • Sponsored by the Museum of Science Fiction
  • “CubeSats are small, grapefruit-size spacecraft that use commercially available space technologies and simple logistics for launch and operation. CubeSats usually have a volume of about one liter (a 10 cm cube) and a mass of no more than 1.33 kilogramsto offer the most compelling concept for a new CubeSat.”
  • Competitors submit a CubeSat mission design proposal

30. M3 Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: Grades 11-12. Teams.

  • Math competition to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on a real-world issue. Sample problems here.
  • High school juniors & seniors. Homeschoolers eligible.
  • Teams of 3-5 students have 14 hours over one Challenge Weekend to do the problem; prepare by working on problems from previous years. In 2016, challenge weekend was February 27-28.
  • Entirely internet-based
  • Scholarship prizes total $150,000
  • Registration begins in November, closes in February.

31.siemens  Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Grades 9-12.

  • Registration opens May 2017; all materials due in September
  • Scholarship awards from $1,000-$100,000
  • Individual, or two or three team members
  • “The Competition is the nation’s premier science research competition for high school students and seeks to promote excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects. It fosters intensive research that improves students’ understanding of the value of scientific study and informs their consideration of future careers in these disciplines.”
  • Lots of regulations governing research; make sure you know the rules ahead of time.
  • Students entering this competition likely should also enter an Intel science fair

32.biogenius The BioGENEius Challenge: Grades 9-12; US and others

  • Along with Intel ISEF and Siemens, another option for big-time high school science projects/research
  • Specifically for biotechnology research
  • Categories: Global Healthcare (medical biotech); Global Sustainability (agricultural biotech); Global Environment (industrial/environmental biotech)
  • Students in US and Canada enter science projects that meet criteria in a local BioGENEius Challenge fair to be held in April

33. Stockholm Junior Water Prize: Grades 9-12

  • “The Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) is the world’s most prestigious youth award for a water-related science project. Projects should be aimed at enhancing the quality of life through improvement of water quality, water resources management, or water and wastewater treatment. The competition is open to any high school student in grades 9-12, and are 15 years of age by August 1st of the competition year.
  • Deadline to enter state competition: April 15th
  • All state winners will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the SJWP National Competition.  The national winner will receive $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Stockholm, Sweden to participate in the SJWP International Competition.
  • Eligibility and rules here

34. I-SWEEEP: Grades 9-12

  • “I-SWEEEP, The International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering, and Environment) Project, is a groundbreaking science fair competition open to high school students. It is the largest science fair event of its kind world-wide. I-SWEEEP works with local, national, and international science fair organizations to bring top-ranking participants and qualifying projects to Houston each year.”
  • “promotes engineering inventions and energy efficiency/management discoveries, that will nurture environmentally friendly technology concepts”
  • Affiliated with the Intel/ISEF science fair network, this is a specialty science fair and symposium that targets the best science projects on sustainability themes.
  • Most participants are nominated from their local/state science fair but you can apply directly here

35. MIT THINK competition: Grades 9-12

  • Students submit a proposal; finalists receive free trip to MIT, mentorship from MIT students, funding and support to complete their project, and superb networking opportunities
  • “THINK project proposals are science, technology, and engineering ideas that span many fields from green technologies and practical devices to software applications. As long as it can be completed in one semester with a $1,000 budget, almost anything is fair game! A good proposal has an insightful idea, clearly defined goals, and a well thought-out procedure for implementation.”
  • Application deadline: January 1, 2017

Local & Regional competitions:

36. The Tech Challenge: Grades 4-12. Teams. 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)
  • Teams put their solutions to the test in front of judges at the showcase on April 29-30, 2017 at the Tech Museum.
  • This year’s challenge: Build a device to help explorers cross an ice field with multiple ravines
  • Registration begins in October 2017

37. Jet Propulsion Laboratory Invention Challenge: Southern CA middle & high schools

  • a friendly, yet challenging competition open to JPL employees and contractors, their family members, and students from local middle and high schools. Each year, a different engineering challenge is selected. The goal of the Invention Challenge is to show students that math, science, and engineering can be fun.
  • The theme for this year’s contest is:“Don’t Waste a Drop Contest” Create a device that can transport water in a plastic cup into the water vessel located 2 meters away in the fastest time without wasting a drop of water. The winner will be the team whose device accomplishes the task in the fastest time.
  • Monday, August 29 – Saturday, October 1, 2016

38. Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research poster contestFor K-12 students in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia only.

  • Students illustrate different aspects of biomedical research through art
  • Prizes $25 and feature page in a calendar. Entry deadline: April 2, 2017.

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

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. For more information or to schedule a virtual visit from Dr. Rogers, email

BONUS: Get a free ebook of PETROPLAGUE by Amy Rogers to see if you can use it in your classroom. Offer expires 10/31/16

What if bacteria turned all the gasoline in Los Angeles into vinegar?
Carmageddon doesn’t begin to describe it.
Petroplague does.
A microbiology-themed science thriller in the style of Michael Crichton

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

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Book Buzz: WAYWARD PINES by Blake Crouch discusses Pines by Blake Crouch.

waywardpinesTech rating (out of 5):  N/A

Publication date: August 2012
Category: Suspense / SciFi

Summary (from the publisher):

Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearance of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.

ScienceThrillers review:

You’re probably thinking, sure, Amy, I’ve heard this one before. Novel begins with main character waking up with no memory, no identity, in a strange place, usually with people trying to kill him. Big deal.

Pines by Blake Crouch is kind of a big deal.

I hear that FOX turned the Pines trilogy into a TV show that maybe wasn’t particularly good. Let me tell you–the book is really really good.

This isn’t high art or a towering work of intellect. It’s an absolutely arresting page-turner that will tie you in knots wondering WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN WAYWARD PINES and HOW IS HE GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS. (Once in a while a smaller inner voice will say, “That makes no sense. Why doesn’t he just…” Ignore that voice. Keep reading.)

Yes, this is a masterpiece of suspense writing, especially for people who think perfection is suspicious. For the first many pages, creepy is the operative word. Slowly, excruciatingly, creepy evolves into disturbing, then terrifying. I can’t tell you more about the plot. You’ll find plenty of tightly written chase scenes, mysteries, and a fair amount of horror/gore. Good news: although you might at times think there’s no way to pull a satisfying conclusion out of this cobweb, the author does. In the end, the reader’s questions are answered. Made me wonder how book #2 (Wayward by Blake Crouch) could possibly follow up to this gem. I haven’t read it yet but my hubby swears it’s as good as or better than book 1. Sounds like I’ve got something to do in the wee hours of the night.

By the way, if you’re a fan of the 1960s British TV series The Prisoner, you’ll love this book.

Click here to amazon listing

Blake Crouch has a hot new release as well that I purchased but haven’t read yet: Dark Matter 

“Are you happy with your life?”
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

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Book Buzz: Star Wars AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig discusses Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig.

Tech rating (out of 5):  N/A

Publication date: September 2015
Category: science fiction / space opera

Summary (from the publisher):

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

ScienceThrillers review:

It’s safe to say that some readers of this blog are Star Wars fans. The massive Lucas-inspired pop culture universe now includes 7 major movies, plus TV series and a bunch of books set in the Star Wars universe, at different times in the history of the movie series.

Years ago I read the first after-the-movies Star Wars book trilogy, the “Thrawn trilogy” written by Timothy Zahn (Heir to the Empire etc.). I hadn’t read any Star Wars books since then. With The Force Awakens renewing interest in Star Wars, the Powers That Be are doing a bit of a reboot of all the off-screen history and novels. Because I’m not a dedicated fan, I can’t tell you the details or argue the merits. I was simply curious: what happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens?

Star Wars: AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig is set in that time period and while it doesn’t answer the question the way I would’ve liked, it does create a nice sense of the chaos and conflict that would accompany the overthrow of Imperial power in the galaxy.  (Shades of Iraq, anyone?) Aftermath is a tidy, simple, quick read that allows fans to spend time in the Star Wars universe. If you can’t get enough of bounty hunters, TIE fighters, dingy alien worlds, droids, and whacked-out aliens, then this is the book for you.

If like me you’re looking for more of your familiar, favorite characters (ie Luke, Leia, and Han) you’ll be disappointed. The only “famous” character with much of a role in this book is Wedge Antilles. If you want the Big Three you’ll have to read Heir to the Empire, which I loved. Whether the events described in the Thrawn Trilogy will remain part of the official canon remains to be seen, I guess.

Click here to amazon listing

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