In May this year, as part of our 150th anniversary, Nature asked readers aged between 18 and 25 to enter an essay competition. The task was to tell us, in no more than 1,000 words, what scientific advance they would most like to see in their lifetimes, and why it mattered to them.

The response was phenomenal: we received 661 entries. Some entrants hoped that science would make their lifetimes much longer than they can currently expect. Many looked forward to work that will end climate change. Others wanted to see advances in neurodegenerative disease, our understanding of human history, crop growth, space exploration, medical technologies, water resources or superfoods. The standard of writing was impressive, and the scope of ideas inspiring.

The winner is a compelling essay by Yasmin Ali, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, UK. Ali submitted a thought-provoking piece on Beethoven, her brother’s hearing loss and the science she hopes will one day cure it. It stood out to the judges as a reminder of why many scientists do research: to make the world better tomorrow than it is today.

All essays were judged by a group of Nature editors. The top ten submissions were then ranked by three members of a separate judging panel: Magdalena Skipper, editor-in-chief of Nature; Faith Osier, an immunologist and researcher at the KEMRI–Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya; and Jess Wade, a physicist at Imperial College London. All submissions were kept anonymous throughout the process.

We also selected two runners-up. Physicist Robert Schittko at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, proposes that nuclear fusion could offer a solution to the climate crisis, in a piece that effortlessly mixes grand ambition with gentle humour. And chemist Matthew Zajac at the University of Chicago in Illinois wrote a powerful personal account of why he wants to see advances in the field of same-sex reproduction.

The results show that today’s young scientists have a wealth of ideas, talent and conviction that research can transform their world. We look forward to seeing what they do next.