Alien hunting and crocodile origami: it's just the 3 Minute Wonder Grand Final

24 May 2016

On 5 May, 10 early career physicists, representing different regions across the UK, massed in the Faraday lecture theatre at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. These budding researchers were all finalists in the IOP’s national 3 Minute Wonder science communication competition – an event hosted by London and South East branch chair Dr Mark Telling, which challenges researchers in physics-related fields (industry or academia) to explain their work in just three minutes.

The participants could use one slide, one bespoke video and as many props as necessary to publicise their results. Each contestant was scored by a panel of judges with points being awarded for physics content, presentation skill, level of engagement and entertainment value – but also deducted should the presentation finish significantly above the 3 minute mark. This year also saw the introduction of the Audience Prize, which encouraged audience participation by enabling the general public to choose their champion.

The judging panel consisted of established science communicators – Maggie Philbin (Presenter and TeenTech CEO), Fran Scott (Presenter, CBBC and BBC Learning Zone), Marek Kukula (Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory) and Helen Thomas (Producer, BBC Science) – whose insight concerning the art of science communication proved invaluable and ensured all ten finalists gained valued feedback.

All presentations were highly entertaining and ranged from demonstrating molecular dance moves to alien hunting! A selection of talks can be viewed on the IOP’s YouTube channel. The winner, as scored by the judges, was Joe Spencer (London and South East branch, University of Southampton) who picked up on good vibrations at the nano-scale. Kerstin Goepfrich (East Anglia branch, University of Cambridge) fashioned crocodile DNA out of paper on her way to securing second place. The winner of the Audience Prize was Joe. Congratulations to both.

From parents to students, and with coverage by the BBC World Service, support for the event was overwhelming. Here are some of the responses we had:

“My eight-year-old is passionate about science and physics in particular – he went to the 3MW National finals at the RI last week and loved it.”

“Thanks to all involved for a great event last night! Educational, inspiring and entertaining all at once.”

“The event was fantastic and I can see it turning into something even bigger over the next few years.”

“Hi Mark, Thanks again for a great event last night! Really well done to everyone involved. My daughter … enjoyed the evening as much as I did.”

“@SMASHfestUK May 5 Fantastic 1st half #3mwfinal @Ri_Science. Exo-planets, nanotubes, solar power, superconductors & aliens!”

However, this national IOP event would not have been such a success without inventive contributions from all contestants (both regional and at the final) nor realised without the generous support and effort of all participating branches, judges and the Institute of Physics and Royal Institution staff members.

Thank you all.

(Chair, IOP London and South East branch)

For further information about the competition please see our 3 minute wonder page.

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