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Three Minute Wonder Science Communication Competition

Three Minute Wonder is our UK and Ireland-wide science communication competition. It challenges researchers or project team members to explain their work to the public in just three minutes. Participants work in physics or physics-related fields in academia, business and/or industry.

Please get in touch with your local branch contacts for further information.


About Three Minute Wonder

Participants pitch their original research to a panel of judges and a non-specialist audience. The aim is to bring cutting edge physics-related research to life for the general public.

The competition involves a series of regional or national heats, depending on location.

Participants can use one slide, one video clip and as many props as necessary to publicise their work (see competition rules). Each contestant is scored by a panel of established science communicators.

The winner from each national or regional heat goes through to the Grand Final.

Heats for the 2023/24 competition commenced in September 2023. Further detail will follow soon. Alternately please contact competition organiser Mark Telling ([email protected]) or your nation/branch representative listed on this page.

This 2022 final was won by Ocean Bach.

How to take part

You will be an early career researcher, project team member, or PhD student, presenting your own work, and have worked for no more than 12 years since your first degree (not including career breaks).

You do not have to be a member of the IOP to compete but must be active in a physics-related field in business, industry or academia. 

Applications will be shortlisted but branch committees and applicants will be informed of their participation soon after the closing date. See competition rules below.

Sign up to participate in your local regional or national heat.

Competition heats details (where known), former winners and contacts

London and the South East

East Midlands

  • 2023/24 heat winner: Theodora Slater
  • 2019/20 heat winner: James Hillier (Monty Clark participated in the Grand Final)
  • 2021/22 heat winner: Jodie West
  • Email branch committee contact: Edward Breeds ([email protected])
  • Email branch support officer: Sharon Connor ([email protected]) 

East Anglia

  • 2023/24 heat winner: Jonathan Bar-David
    2023/24 heat runner up: Ana R Hernandez Rodriguez
  • 2021/22 heat winner: Ian Roque
  • Email branch committee contact: Fengtong Ji ([email protected])
  • Email branch support officer: Marcia Reais ([email protected])

South West

South Central 

Lancashire and Cumbria

Merseyside 

Manchester and District

North East

  • 2019/20 heat winner: Lewis McKenzie
  • No 2021/22 heat
  • Email branch committee contact: Sam James ([email protected])
  • Email branch support officer: Bethany Wootton ([email protected]

West Midlands

Yorkshire

Scotland

Ireland

  • The winners of the 2023 and 2024 Rosse Medal, awarded at the IOP Ireland Spring Conference, will be invited to compete in the Grand Final. The Spring Conference was on Saturday 6 April, 10.30, the Royal College of Surgeons, 123 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, D02 YN77.
  • 2019/20 Rosse Medallist: Sarah Markham
    2021/22 Rosse Medallist: Sarah Cameron
  • Email nation committee contact: Yvonne Kavanagh ([email protected]) and Dermot Green ([email protected])
  • Email Ireland contact: [email protected] and Lee Reynolds ([email protected])

Wales

Presentations

Presentations by shortlisted contestants can include:

  • one PowerPoint slide
  • as many props as you want
  • one video clip you have made

Prizes

The organising branch or nation decides the prizes for the heats.

Competition final

Information about the local Three Minute Wonder heats and the Grand Final 2024 coming soon.

Scoring for heats and final

Each judge awards each presentation a mark out of 10. Scores are combined to give the participant’s total.

Points are awarded for a contestant’s ability to communicate their work to the non-specialist audience. Judges consider:

  • physics content
  • presentation skill
  • entertainment value
  • level of engagement

Points are deducted if presentations run longer than three minutes. Read more about the awarding of points in the rules.

Watch the heats and final

Book your place in the audience on our events page.

More information

Email: [email protected] (organiser, Three Minute Wonder)

Testimonials

We continue to be overwhelmed by support from parents and students and publicity on the BBC World Service.

  • “It was an absolute privilege and career highlight to get to talk to such an excellent audience and judges panel. It’s something my younger self would hardly believe!”
  • “Thank you for the experience, it was a truly unique night and has hopefully set the tone for the rest of my PhD!”
  • “Thank you very much for organising [the] event. Everyone I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed it.”
  • “Just wanted to say thank you for organising the event. It went very smoothly and it was a privilege to be a part of.”
  • “My partner and I had an absolutely wonderful time and appreciate your enthusiasm throughout.”
  • “My eight-year-old is passionate about science and physics in particular – he went to the 3MW national final at the Royal Institution 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.”
  • “Fantastic 1st half #3mwfinal @Ri_Science. Exo-planets, nanotubes, solar power, superconductors and aliens!”

Support

Woman giving science demonstration

This UK and Ireland-wide IOP event is successful because of the inventive contributions from contestants in the regional and national heats and at the final. The aims of the event are realised with the generous support and effort of:

  • judges
  • participating nations and branches
  • IOP staff and members

Competition rules

  1. The competition is open to any early career researcher working in any physics-related field, e.g. a researcher or member of a physics-focused project team (including those in business and/or industry), who is within the first 12 years of their career (allowing for career breaks) following the award of a first degree. Entrants do not need to be members of the IOP.
  2. A participant may register for one national (Scotland, Wales) or regional heat (England) only. For the 2023/24 competition, the IOP Ireland entries to the Grand Final will be the winners of the 2023 and 2024 Rosse Medal competitions.
  3. Participants can register their interest to compete via the entry form hosted on Smart Survey.
  4. The number of participants invited to present their work per heat will be limited to 10.
  5. The 10 participants invited to the live event will be chosen by the nation/region's branch committee. Participants will submit an abstract (50 words maximum) detailing their research. The abstract should be engaging and explain the topic in layman's terms. The branch committee will use these abstracts to shortlist 10 participants.
  6. There should be a panel of at least four judges, one being designated the role Head Judge. If possible, this panel should represent an inclusive and diverse range of science-related professions, ideally with science communication experience, for example teaching, journalism, research and industry.
  7. Each presentation will be scored immediately with a mark out of 10 being awarded by each judge. Marks will be announced after all the presentations have concluded. However, judges can give immediate feedback and invite a couple of audience questions.
  8. In addition to the panel, the presentation will be timed by a timekeeper. After an initial buffer of five seconds over the three-minute mark, one point will be deducted for each five-second period that the speaker finishes beyond three minutes. For example, a talk finishing between 3 and 3.05 will not be penalised. Between 3.05 and 3.10 a one-point deduction will be made. Between 3.10 and 3.15, a two-point deduction is made, and so on. The timekeeper will not mark the talks. Time-keeping points will only be deducted after all the presentations have been given.
  9. The presentations must be the participant's own research/work.
  10. The focus of the competition will be on science communication, not so much the science itself. Is the research bought to life by the speaker for the general public?
  11. As part of their presentation the speaker may choose to use: one PowerPoint slide (if ‘transitions’ are used to build slide content, existing content cannot disappear), a video clip (that the speaker has made), and as many props as the speaker wishes. The video clip should be self-contained and used to communicate or enhance a specific concept or idea. 
  12. For the 2023/24 competition, the winner of each national/regional heat will be invited to compete in the 3MW Grand Final in London.
  13. In the event of a tie, each judging panel member will, in turn, be asked to choose their champion, with the Head Judge voting last. If the judging panel vote is tied the vote of the Head Judge will decide the winner.
  14. The decision of the judges and the timekeeper is final.

The story so far: background to the competition

The idea for a UK and Ireland-wide science communication competition came from events held by the East Anglia Branch in 2012 and 2013. 

These first events were held at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. They gave members and the general public the chance to learn about cutting-edge physics-based research in an exciting and novel way.

A Decade of Wonder

In 2013, the London and South East Branch chair, and central IOP staff, saw huge potential in developing the Three Minute Wonder format as a UK and Ireland-wide science communication competition.

The inaugural competition took place in late 2013, with seven heats being run across the UK. The top 14 early career researchers competed at the Grand Final in May 2014. The final was held in the Faraday lecture theatre at the Royal Institution, London.

All presentations were highly entertaining and ranged from demonstrating, to a packed auditorium, how to ‘detect’ mechanical damage via a Mexican wave, to impact crater creation using a vat of tomato ketchup!

The competition has grown since then and you can find out more in this presentation from June 2023.