Three Minute Wonder Final : )

Hello everyone 🙂

Last night I went to the final of the ‘three minute wonder’ competition, run by the Institute of Physics. The finalists were scientists from all sorts of disciplines and each had three minutes plus one slide or a video to explain their research to a non-science audience. The timing was tight – if they were more or less than I think five seconds under or over they had a point deducted.

Awesomely it was held at the Royal Institution in the nice purple Faraday lecture theatre where the Christmas lectures are presented, and it was free too! Doors opened an hour earlier for drinks and a chance to look around the museum-y bits of the Royal Institution—sadly Will and I didn’t realise how interesting it would be, so only arrived with enough time to grab a glass of wine and notice the dastardly device that first spotted Bragg Diffraction (the bane of  many a second-year’s life.) I definitely need to go back and see the exhibits—there was also a wall-sized periodic table that played the element song—the one where they list all the elements to that Gilbert and Sullivan tune—with the aim to keep up and tap the elements in the right order!

Anyway, there were 14 finalists from all over the country who presented topics from the unexpectedly low temperature of gas in the centres of galactic clusters to testing aeroplane wings for faults using electromagnetism. They were then judged by four judges who you might have heard of (Steve Mould, Lucie Green, Simon Singh and Lindsay Keith) from TV and books and spoken nerd festivals etc. etc. The judging was full-on strictly-come-dancing style with feedback and scorecards and the number seven being pronounced ‘sevvverrrrn’, as traditional.

The talks (and one rap about detecting dark matter which was as cringe-inducing yet mesmerising as it sounds) were funny and innovative with interesting props and brilliant analogies (like making a flipbook out of the development stages of galaxies). My bad journalism comes in here as I didn’t think to write down the names of the contestants, expecting them to be online in some kind of press release but nope, not yet so you’ll have to excuse my lack of anyone’s names…

Some of the talks I liked best were on the more esoteric topics such as the science of ‘hitting things’ which was about whacking polymers to determine the resonant frequencies and studying the shapes of Tektites, which are bits of the Earth that are made molten by the impact of meteorites. The winner presented a talk on looking for water in the atmospheres of big planets close to their stars called ‘hot jupiters’ involving fruits to represent planets and a cuddly stuffed-toy Star.

I have two favourite things about the evening. One was the clear enthusiasm that all the contestants had for their research—after each talk the audience could ask questions and the depth of their knowledge and clarity of even these unprepared answers were really quite amazing. My second favourite thing was the moment when the third contestant began her talk about using lasers to image the brains of mice. She was so calm and in control of the situation—easily making jokes about the mouse brains looking like popcorn chicken and getting the audience to wave their hands in the air like oscillating water particles, that it was instantly relaxing and absorbing to listen to her.

All the contestants did amazingly well and it was a really fun and engaging evening that has inspired me to work on my own public speaking (I had to do a similar presentation on a topic in my Horizons class this year, as you may remember from another blog, and I was so so nervous just in that much smaller situation.)

The Institute of Physics hasn’t put anything up about this final yet, but I am sure they will soon, so I will link to it in a later blog.

They are hoping to make this competition annual or bi-annual and if you can you should go!

lecture theatre compressed
Oooh fancy lecture theatre…

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