The winner of the fourth annual My Thesis in 180 Seconds competition, held last night at the Rolex Forum, was Alvaro Charlet - a PhD student in materials science. In just three minutes he explained to the 600 people in the audience how his hydrogels receipes could one day replace ligaments in the human body. His presentation - perfectly orchestrated and seasoned with humor - won over the jury.
Scientific discoveries can wow an audience - if they are explained with passion and panache. And that’s exactly what happened last night at the finals of EPFL’s My Thesis in 180 Seconds competition, held at the Rolex Forum. All of the auditorium’s 600 seats were filled as people watched in earnest while the 14 finalists discussed their research on topics ranging from medical imaging and the inner workings of watches to nuclear energy.
Charlet’s work on developing flexible yet resistant hydrogels paves the way to a next generation of artificial ligaments, which can help people recover faster from skiing accidents, for example. A student at EPFL’s Soft Materials Laboratory, he is testing different types of polymers to come up with the perfect recipe. His presentation took home first place. Second place went to PhD student Radmila Faizova, who is studying uranium. She managed to turn her research on a daunting subject into an interesting exposé on how to clean up uranium 6 which is dangerous for health issues into another form which is safe. And third place went to PhD student Josué Ghering, whose research on snowflakes has taken him to all four corners of the globe - from Switzerland and South Korea all the way to Antarctica. Ghering is investigating how snowflakes’ shape and composition change in response to different weather conditions. The five members of the jury 1 , all of whom had already arbitrate other editions, said they had more difficulty than in previous years in separating them.
Two audience awards for Valentine Magnin
The MC for the event was last year’s winner Lucas Güniat, who rose to the challenge given to him by the event organizers. The public speaking classes he took probably helped him prepare. While all 14 students who presented last night made giving their 3-minute talk look easy, they actually put in hours and hours of work. "The secret to looking natural and conveying your passion is practice, practice, practice," says Étienne Duval, a freelance journalist who has trained several EPFL PhD students on public speaking, including 11 of this year’s 14 finalists.
The special audience award went to PhD student Valentine Magnin, who also won the audience’s second selection . "Your mechanical watch may seem to be running on time, but it’s actually falling behind by a few seconds every day," said Magnin as she launched into her presentation. Her research aims to understand how energy is gradually lost by watch springs as they rub against various other components. The winner of the audience’s first selection was Daniele Ongari, a PhD student at EPFL’s Sion campus who works on molecular simulation
Over the past four years, the competition - dubbed MT180 EPFL - has become a highlight of the school year. The concept is not unique to EPFL: other Swiss universities will hold similar events in the coming weeks, and a national final will be held at La Chaux-de-Fonds on 6 June, hosted by the University of Neuchatel. The first, second and third place winners from EPFL will have the chance to compete in the national event, in the hopes of qualifying for the international finals that will take place in Dakar, Senegal in September.
1 Les membres du jury : Gisou van der Goot, doyenne de la Faculté SV, Clémence Corminboeuf, professeure de la faculté SB, Julien Guex, sous-directeur de la chambre vaudoise du commerce et de l’industrie, Mauro Lattuada, manager en transfert de technologie à l’EPFL et Bastien Confino, journaliste RTS