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Student Essay Competition

The AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition Student Essay Competition is made possible by the AAAS-Andrew M. Sessler Fund for Science, Education, and Human Rights.

Andrew Marienhoff Sessler (December 11, 1928 – April 17, 2014) was an American physicist, academic, former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (1973–1980), AAAS Fellow, and acclaimed humanitarian and public advocate for scientific freedom.  Learn more about Dr. Sessler here.

The essay competition was created to inspire students to explore connections between human rights and science, engineering and the health professions. Students may write on any topic at the intersection of science and/or technology with human rights.


40 essays from 12 different countries. The essays addressed the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted global health disparities, unequal access to information, and poverty, while also emphasizing the human rights responsibilities of governments and scientific communities in their responses to the virus. Other essay themes included the right to healthy food, impacts of climate change on human rights, and the responsible uses of emerging technologies. The winners will be recognized at the October 2020 Science, Technology and Human Rights Virtual Conference, hosted by the Coalition.

Graduate Student Winner

Malwina Wójcik, University of Bologna
Essay Title: "The Search for a COVID-19 Vaccine: Is It Time for a Human Rights Approach to Scientific Development?"

Undergraduate Student Winner

Morgan Steelman, Princeton University
Essay Title: "Genetic Surveillance of Uighurs in Xinjiang: Ethnicity, Sovereignty, Crime, and Human Rights"

Honorable Mention

Abigail Kleiman, Barnard College
Essay Title: "Rectifying the Lack of Protection for Environmental Refugees in International Law: The Escalating Reality of the Climate Crisis"


53 students from 11 different countries entered the competition. The essays represented wide array of topics including artificial intelligence, climate change, and access to medical technologies. The winners will be recognized at the October 2019 AAAS Science and Human Rights Conference in Washington, DC.

Graduate Student Winner

Mehrgol Tiv, McGill University
Essay Title: "AI for Social Good: How Psychological Researchers Can Contribute to the Socially Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence"

Undergraduate Student Winner

Sumona Gupta, The University of Alabama
Essay Title: "Deep Poverty and Shallow Trenches: The Human Right to Sanitation in Alabama’s Black Belt"

Honorable Mention

Anna Lee Ali, University of London
Essay Title: "Samantha’s #MeToo: examining the idea of consent in sex robots (sexbots)"


56 students from 24 different countries entered the competition. The essays represented wide array of scientific topics including tropical diseases, artificial intelligence, social science research, and neurotechnology. The winners will be recognized at the July 2018 Science and Human Rights Coalition Symposium in Washington, DC.

Graduate Student Winner

Irene Fogarty, University College Dublin
Essay Title: “Protected Areas Conservation, Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights”

Undergraduate Student Winner

Neil Thivalapill, Columbia University
Essay Title: “The Etiology of Rights: Intersecting the Right to Health and the Right to Science for the Neglected Tropical Diseases”

Honorable Mention(s)

Kopal Jha, Cornell University
Essay Title: “What Women Expect When They're Expecting: Human Rights Considerations in Obstetrics”


66 students from 32 different countries entered the competition. The essays covered a wide range of topics at the intersection of science of human rights, including reproductive technologies, food security, artificial intelligence, data privacy, and access to water.  The winners were recognized at the July 27, 2017 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C. 

Graduate Student Winner

Miriam Aczel, Imperial College London 
Essay Title: "Fracking and Human Rights: Using a Rights-Based Framework to Regulate a New Technology"

Undergraduate Student Winner

Church Lieu, California State University – Los Angeles
Essay Title: "The Augmentation Gap"

Honorable Mentions

Kylie Orme, University of Utah
Essay Title: “Mr. Robot: Morality, AI, and Personhood” 

Elaine Huang, Lafayette College
Essay Title: "Doomed to Digital Dependence? Children in the Age of Persuasive Technology"


42 students from 10 different countries entered the competition. The essays represented a wide range of scientific topics, including child psychology and development; personalized medicine; assistive technologies; food security; information technology; research ethics; environmental disasters; forensic science; and the place of ethnic, racial, and gender identity in scientific research. The winners were recognized at the July 2016 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Graduate Student Winner

Julie Fleischman, Michigan State University
Essay Title: “Skeletal Analysis after Crimes Against Humanity and Genocides: Implications for Human Rights”

Ms. Fleischman is an Anthropology doctoral student at Michigan State University.  She is completing her dissertation research on human remains from the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia; she is focusing on the skeletal injuries as well as how the remains are understood in contemporary Cambodian society.  Her primary research interests include forensic anthropology, human rights, and skeletal trauma. 

Undergraduate Student Winner

Tanner Rolfe, University of Dayton
Essay Title: “Living Water: A Catholic Social Teaching Perspective on PFOA and Human Rights”

Tanner is currently a junior at the University of Dayton majoring in mechanical engineering with an intended minor in mechanical systems. He has a special interest in applications of shape-changing mechanisms and is currently involved in undergraduate research focused on kinematic synthesis of variable geometry linkages. He says, "I love the design process: it allows me to express my creativity while giving me the opportunity to apply my skills in a practical and significant way.After graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school in pursuit of a master’s degree in engineering, and aspires to one day earn PE licensure. 

Honorable Mention for Creativity and Originality

Priyanka Menon, Harvard University
Essay Title: “Mathematics and the Question of Human Rights”

Priyanka Menon graduated from Harvard College in 2016 with a B.A. in Mathematics and a secondary in History. She is primarily interested in the histories and theories of human rights, political violence, and civil disobedience.


29 students from 8 different countries entered the competition. The essays represent a wide range of scientific topics: neuroscience, biology, ‘Big Data’, forensic anthropology, science policy, STEM education, wildlife ecology, environmental sustainability, sociology, medicine, global health, science ethics, stem cell research, materials engineering, crowd-sourcing, computer science, biotechnology, genetics, agricultural sciences, climate change, and information technology. The winners were recognized at the July 2015 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Graduate Student Winner

Wasima Khan, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Essay Title: "Profits, Medicine, and the Human Right to Health in the Pharmaceutical Industry: Educating (Future) Business Leaders"

Wasima Khan, J.D., is a PhD candidate in Corporate Law at the Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Wasima’s forthcoming dissertation focuses on how responsibilities toward distributive justice can be implemented in law, business, and society.

Undergraduate Student Winner

Lauren Y. Chan, Queen's University
Essay Title: “The Pursuit of Perfection? Fetal Genetic Screening"

Lauren is a first year medical student at Queen’s University in Canada, and was one of ten students accepted into the inaugural year of the Accelerated Route to Medical School program in 2013. She is passionate about scientific research and human rights, and hopes to incorporate global health into her future medical career.

Honorable Mentions

Jonah S. Rubin, University of Chicago
Essay Title: “Spain’s Laboratory of Hope and Dignity: Scientific Exhumations and the Making of Dead Citizens"

Neha Shah, Georgetown University
Essay Title: "The Structural Human Rights Violations of Malaria"


53 students from eleven different countries entered the competition. Their essays covered almost as many topics, addressing human rights concerns connected to surrogacy, immunization, bio-technology, genetic tests, environmental health issues, and more. Many essays highlighted potential contributions of science and technology to protecting human rights, while others gave thoughtful consideration to ways in which human rights principles can inform scientific research and practice. The winners were recognized at the July 2014 Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Graduate Student Winner

Wasiu Adedapo Lawal, The University of Texas at Arlington
Essay Title: "Water as a Friend and a Right"
Read the winning graduate essay.

Undergraduate Student Winner

Surabhi Chaturvedi, National Law Institute University, Bhopal
Essay Title: “Satellite Imagery in International Human Rights Litigation”
Read the winning undergraduate essay