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 and industry. 

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 and as many props as necessary to publicise their work. 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. 

How to take part

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

Register your interest to participate in your local regional or national heat.

Competition heats: locations and dates

London and the South East

  • Closing date for applications to be confirmed.
  • Competition heat on 11 December 2019 at Institute of Physics in London.
  • Email committee contact:
  • Email national regional manager:

East Anglia

East Midlands


  • In Ireland, the winner of the 2019 and 2020 Rosse medal’s will be invited to compete in the Grand Final.
  • Email committee contact: David Riley
  • Email national regional manager:


  • Closing date for applications: Friday 25 October 2019.
  • Competition heat: 13 November 2019 at 3pm. The Studio, IC1 Liverpool Science Park (entrance in Great Orford Street) 131 Mount Pleasant, L3 5TF
  • Email committee contact:
  • Email national regional manager:

North East


South Central

South West

  • Closing date for applications: Sunday 20 October 2019
  • Competition heat 23 November 2019. Roland Levinsky Building, University of Plymouth
  • Email committee contact: 
  • Email national regional manager:



Presentations by short-listed contestants can include:

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


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

Competition final

The Grand Final for the winners of each heat will be in May 2020 (location and date to be confirmed).

Scoring for heats and final

Each judge awards each presentation a mark out of ten. 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

Support participants at your local Three Minute Wonder heats and at the live final in May 2020. 

Heat events are added to our calendar as they are confirmed.

Book your place in the audience on our events page

More information

Email: Institute Vice-president, membership.


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

  • “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!”


Woman giving physics demonstration.

This UK and Ireland-wide Institute 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
  • the Institute of Physics staff and members

Competition rules

  1. The competition is open to early career researchers working in any physics-related subject, ie a researcher or member of a physics-focused project team (including those in industry) who is within the first 12 years of their career (allowing for career breaks) following the award of a first degree.
  2. A participant may register for one national (Scotland, Wales) or regional heat (England) only. For the 2019/20 competition, the IoP Ireland entry to the Grand Final will be the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Rosse Medals.
  3. Participants will register their interest to compete via the 3 Minute Wonder website.
  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 terms. The branch committee will use these abstracts to shortlist 10 participants.
  6. There should be a panel of four judges. If possible, this panel should represent a 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 the 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.
  12. For the 2019/20 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 the audience will be asked to decide the winner.
  14. The decision of the judges and timekeeper's 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.


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 fourteen early career researchers competing at the grand final in May 2014. The final event 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!