Research Highlight Science Writing Contest


Open to currently enrolled (and recently graduated, within prior 12 months) graduate students in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and UIUC graduate students in other units who are collaborating with physics faculty on their research. 

The topic of the research highlight must be research that is published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal within the past calendar year (from date of research highlight submission). The author of the research highlight must be an author on the scientific paper. Journals may exercise an embargo prior to publishing, and such embargoes are always respected. You needn't wait for the embargo to lift prior to submitting the highlight.

Every entry must include an image that meets the criteria listed below under “Image Submission Requirement.” 


All eligible submissions of research highlights will be considered for each of the two prizes listed below. If two or more graduate students co-author a winning research highlight, the prizes listed below would be split evenly among them.

People’s Choice Award – Best Research Highlight 

One (1) prize will be awarded per semester (fall and spring) based on community voting. Winner receives a dinner for their entire research group at an approved local restaurant. Staff members in the main office will assist with scheduling the dinner. 

Readers will vote for their favorite research highlight on the Physics Department website—encourage friends, family, and colleagues to vote for your article!  

Submissions received from May 1 to December 6th will be considered for the fall prize, to be announced by January 10th. Submissions received from December 7th to April 30th will be considered for the spring prize, to be announced by May 21st. 

Winning entries will be promoted in the Physics Department news. 

Editors’ Choice Award – Best Research Highlight

One (1) prize awarded per calendar year; winner selected by editorial review board. Winner receives a $500 cash prize. 

A winner will be chosen at the end of each academic year. All submissions received during the preceding 12 months will be considered. 

The winning entry will be promoted in the Physics Department news. 


Research Highlight Writing Guidelines 

  • Explain in your research highlight what problem your research addressed and how it has advanced your field. Provide the context for your work: whether it is a continuation of other efforts or a new line of inquiry. You may also touch on implications for future work or potential impact on other fields, if relevant. 
  • Write for an audience of people with a background in physics or related fields who are not specialists in your specific research area. Define all terminology specific to your field that this audience would not understand.
  • Use first-person pronouns (I, we). This forum is less formal than an academic journal article. 
  • Insert hyperlinks to any works referenced, including your own peer-reviewed article, rather than footnoting.
  • Include a funding acknowledgment at the end of your article, using the specific language required by your sponsor(s). This information can be found on each sponsor’s website—or you can ask your PI.  
  •  Word limit: 800 words

Submission Procedure 

All submissions must be submitted through the online form at Your article will appear on the website only after it has been reviewed by editorial staff.  Watch your university email account for any follow-up questions or instructions from an editor.

By submitting a research highlight through the form, you are acknowledging that

  • a primary investigator of the research or your faculty research adviser has reviewed and approved your submission for publication. The form requires that you share the campus email address of the faculty member who reviewed the article prior to your submission.
  • you have the authority to share publicly the image files uploaded with your submission. By pressing the submit button,  you release these files to the Department of Physics, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, without surrendering copyright, for use on its website, social media, and print publications.

Image Submission Requirement

Every entry must include at least one image to accompany the article on the website, uploaded through the submission form's "Thumbnail Image" field. This image will draw an audience to your research highlight.

This image must be a minimum of 500 x 500 pixels, though the aspect ratio isn't required to be 1:1. The image may be a photo of the researchers, experimental apparatus, data simulation, or artwork representing the research. Plots and graphs are not preferred for the primary image uploaded as the thumbnail. Additional images may be included in the "Content" field by dragging and dropping files into place. Captions may be added to the "alt description" field—these will not appear under the images until the editor has migrated the submission to the website.

Please check the copyright rules of the peer-reviewed journal if using an image from the peer-reviewed article, to make sure you own the copyright or have permission to use the image.


Once the editor releases the research highlight to the Illinois Physics website, each eligible entry will be considered for both the popular and the editorial prizes. Encourage colleagues and friends to vote for your entry on the Illinois Physics website!

Research Highlights Award Winners

Luis Miguel de Jesus Astacio

Editors' Choice 2023

Earth's great recyclers: Carbon cycling in microbial communities



Bryce Cousins

People's Choice Spring 2023

Finding the Milky Way's next exploding star with Agile software


Debora Mroczek

People's Choice Fall 2023

At the core of a cosmic mystery: What's inside a neutron star?




Illinois Physics doctoral candidate Dmitry Manning-Coe
Illinois Physics doctoral candidate Dmitry Manning-Coe
Research Highlights Editor


Siv Kalve Schwink
Siv K. Schwink
Communications Coordinator
281B Loomis Laboratory