How to make straight nanowires, in three minutes

© 2017 EPFL

© 2017 EPFL

Nanowires are the building blocks of quantum computers, and their secrets have now been revealed, thanks to Lucas Güniat. This talented speaker described the results of his PhD research on nanowires in EPFL’s “My Thesis in 180 Seconds” contest. His passion for his work, coupled with the extraordinary microcrystals used to make the tiny wires, earned him first place in a unanimous vote.

The challenge of the My Thesis in 180 Seconds contest is to describe a complicated scientific subject in layman’s terms so that the general public can easily understand it. Last night’s participants, all PhD students, had three minutes to clearly present their findings to the audience and the panel without compromising on accuracy or scientific rigor.

In his talk, Güniat drew a parallel with David and Goliath to explain the basics of quantum computers. He described how one of the main challenges in building these small, ultra-powerful machines is creating nanowires that are perfectly straight. His natural speaking style and clear way of presenting concepts also earned him the audience choice award during the qualifying round and at the finals.

All twelve finalists in the contest performed brilliantly in what is a venturesome, yet nerve-wracking experience. Speaking in front of a large audience, they covered topics ranging from plasma physics and statistics to the environmental impact of buildings. Second place went to Evgenii Glushkov, who described how nanodiamonds can be placed inside live human body cells to study certain processes or administer drugs.

Bahar Haghighat, a second-time finalist in the contest, took home third place. She explained how assembling nanoscopic elements is like trying to build a Lego set while wearing boxing gloves. All three winners will go on to compete in the Swiss national finals, which will be held in Fribourg on 7 June 2018.

Under the rules of the contest – which has now become an annual event at EPFL – PhD students have exactly 180 seconds to galvanize enthusiasm for their research projects. The six-person panel is made up of scientists, journalists and business people involved in technology transfer; they evaluate the students’ talks based on criteria such as elocution, how well background information is presented and how well the talk is structured.