A tale of the Three Little Pigs and their low-cost solar energy wows judges in 3 Minute Thesis Final

21 Sep 2020
3MT winner Bruno Vicari Stefani

Imaginative solar cell presentation earns UNSW Engineering PhD candidate Bruno Vicari Stefani top prize in online UNSW 3MT grand final.

UNSW’s breadth and depth of doctoral research was on display as the popular 3 Minute Thesis Final turned into a virtual event for 2020.

Instead of presenting to an audience of hundreds as normal, this year’s finalists submitted video entries lasting just 180 seconds to explain their research and its importance in a clear and concise manner.

Topics included digital nomadism in a post-COVID world, the effect of subtitling swear words in movies and targeting genes for brain cancer treatments.

But the winner of the $3000 top prize was UNSW Engineering’s Bruno Vicari Stefani for his engaging presentation about developing highly efficient solar energy cells using low-cost materials – bringing the classic fairy tale of the Three Little Pigs into the modern day to illustrate his key points.

The judges - Indigenous Affairs reporter Ella Archibald-Binge, former ABC journalist and producer Edmond Roy, science presenter Natasha Mitchell, UNSW’s MCIC Foundations program manager Laura Earl, and UNSW’s Deputy Dean of Graduate Research Associate Professor Penny Martens – were captivated by the innovative way Stefani explained how combining hydrogen with low-cost silicon in solar panels can prevent them from losing efficiency over time.


 “Bruno was a standout winner by really creatively using storytelling to explain his work. He developed the idea over the whole presentation, and it was a great way of bringing his PhD journey alive for the viewers,” said judge Natasha Mitchell.

Mr Stefani said, “I am so happy to win.  I want to thank the University, but also the other competitors for raising the bar so high that I had to put in a lot of work. I also want to thank my supervisor Brett Hallam for all the support and opportunities he has given me throughout my PhD.”

Second place, and $1500, went to UNSW Engineering’s Shantanu Chakraborty for his presentation about research into the introduction of special traffic lanes reserved for self-driving vehicles. Chakraborty also won the ASPIRE prize and $500 after being chosen by Year 7-12 students from Liverpool Girls, Liverpool Boys and Matraville Sports High Schools.

Third place in the main competition went to Emma Long from UNSW Science after she skilfully explained how eating with other people can influence our food intake.

The general public also had the chance to watch videos from all 24 finalists and vote for their favourite – with Lital Livni from UNSW Medicine receiving the People’s Choice award for her presentation into the development of altered sensations and pain following cancer treatments.

Overall, the 3MT judges were hugely impressed at the standard of all the finalists and the amount of complex material they managed to explain in such a short period of time.

UNSW Chancellor David Gonski AC said: “This competition is always one of the highlights of the calendar each year and this 3MT Final illustrates how broad our research is at UNSW. We are very proud of the standard shown from all the finalists.”

 “Our PhD candidates are engaged in world class research, and the 3MT competition showcases their work in a really engaging and accessible way,” said Dean of Graduate Research Professor Jonathan Morris.

“I want to congratulate all of our outstanding finalists for their efforts. Each has provided a window into their exciting work and highlighted their ability to communicate and show their passion for their research.”

3MT winner Stefani will now represent UNSW in the Asia Pacific competition run by University of Queensland, as well as the international Universitas 21 final – another virtual event where judges watch video presentations.