Exoplanet researcher wins 3 Minute Wonder competition

19 May 2014

Hannah Wakeford has taken top prize in the IOP’s 3 Minute Wonder competition with a talk on searching for water in the atmospheres of alien worlds.

Exoplanet researcher wins 3 Minute Wonder competition
Photo Credit: Natalie Garrett

She was among dozens of early career scientists who took up the challenge of explaining their research in three minutes to a general audience, taking part in regional heats to compete for a place in the national final in London. Fourteen contestants – the winners and runners-up from each regional heat – made it through to the grand final, which was hosted by the Royal Institution on 15 May and held in its historic Faraday Theatre.

The talks were given marks out of 10 by each of four judges – author Simon Singh; solar scientist, writer and broadcaster Lucie Green; creative director of TV and science communications company Refinery Productions, Lindsay Keith; and scientist and comic of Festival of the Spoken Nerd fame, Steve Mould. The contestants answered brief questions from the audience after their talks, and received immediate feedback from the judges.

Hannah, a PhD student in astrophysics at the University of Exeter, described how scientists are looking for water in the atmospheres of exoplanets, particularly “hot Jupiters”, using soft toys as her only props. She received £500 in cash and a 3 Minute Wonder trophy.

The runner-up was David Farmer, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, who is studying the hypersonic properties of polymer nanostructures. In his talk, entitled “The Joy of Hitting Things” he described how his research involved using lasers to vibrate and measure the properties of polymers. He received £250 in cash and a trophy.

The compere for the evening was Mark Telling, chair of the IOP’s London and South East Branch, and the prizes were presented by the IOP’s president, Frances Saunders. She said she appreciated the way that the contestants had conveyed the importance of their work while at the same time making it fun and interesting.