The University of New South Wales’s (UNSW) ingenuity remains unstifled by the health restrictions brought on by Covid-19 as its 3 Minute Thesis Final went virtual this year. The event sees doctoral researchers present their work in, you guessed it, three minutes. This year’s competition was won by Bruno Vicari Stefani whose presented his research into developing highly efficient solar energy cells using low-cost materials.
Stefani, from the Faculty of Engineering, won the $3000 prize not solely through his talent as a researcher, but also by engaging the judges through his reimagining of the classic fairytale of the Three Little Pigs.
In the classic tale, the third pig built his house of brick so that the big bad wolf could not blow it down. In Stefani’s retelling, the third pig was able to increase the efficiency of his solar panels not only by extracting contaminants from the panels, but also injected his panels with hydrogen to fix the problem of instability. “Then,” said Stefani, “his solar panels were not only high in efficiency but very stable under sunlight…and that’s basically my PhD journey.”
“Normally,” continued Stefani, “expensive high-quality silicon material is required to fabricate high-efficiency solar panels (because low-quality silicon has many contaminants and is not stable under sunlight), I have developed metrics to improve silicon…by doing so I was able to demonstrate the highest sustainable voltage to date.” This is quite a development since it enables low-cost silicon to be easily improved.
One of the judges, science presenter Natasha Mitchell, said that Bruno was the standout winner by 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.”
Stefani said he was extremely happy to win the competition, thanking UNSW and his supervisor Brett Hallam for “all the support and opportunities he has given me throughout my PhD.”
UNSW Chancellor David Gonski AC said that the 3MT competition “is always one of the highlights of the calendar each year and this 3MT Final illustrates how broad our research is at UNSW.”
Stefani will now go on to represent UNSW in the Asia Pacific level, run by the University of Queensland.
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