Swinburne’s engineering and science students have won all of the top prizes in the 2021 Let’s Torque National Public Speaking Competition.
Let’s Torque was held virtually on August 21, with attendees delivering a four-minute pitch for solving a problem using science.
Joshua Nicholls finished in first place, Sanjeeban Chattopadhyay was a finalist and Georgina Aiuto received the “People’s Choice” award. Students qualified for Let’s Torque through the Start Talking 2020 competition, as part of Swinburne’s Shaping STEMM Futures initiative.
Dr Bita Zaferanloo, Deputy Academic Director of Swinburne Student Engagement, is on the Let’s Torque Advisory Board and facilitated both competitions. She also runs Swinburne’s Communication for scientists unity.
“I am so excited that through my initiative we were able to identify the talented science communicators at Swinburne to take it to the next level,” she says.
First finalist Joshua Nicholls says Swinburne units such as Communication for Scientists have taught him how to make an award-winning pitch.
Pitch to solve problems
Joshua Nicholls is in his fifth year at Swinburne, completing the Bachelor of Science degree and specialized in biochemistry.
“The dream of my life has been not only to be a world-class scientist, but also a mentor, a teacher, a communicator – someone who can inspire and get people excited about science,” he says.
His pitch “Bionics: Seeing into the Future” suggested using gene cloning and STEM technologies to describe neurological conditions and design drugs. After losing points on communicability in the Start Talking competition, he learned the important lesson of “keeping it simple”, which he applied to his pitch at Let’s Torque.
“It was even an absolute privilege to have participated in this competition. Getting to first place was an added honor and will always be one of the highlights of my life, ”said Nicholls.
Georgina Aiuto is a third year Bachelor of Science (Professional) student specializing in physics. His “Take a Second for the Future” pitch was inspired by a talk announced through the Swinburne Physics Club.
His pitch explains the importance of the science of time and how advancing devices like the atomic clock can help reduce the environmental impact of Australian bushfires through GPS technology.
Winning the “People’s Choice” was “surprising,” Ms. Aiuto says. “I’m very grateful for all the support from my friends and family who jumped into the livestream to watch my performance,” she says.
The finalist, Sanjeeban Chattopadhyay, is studying the Bachelor of Engineering (Honors) with a specialization in Civil Engineering. His argument “Permeable Pavements: A Key Design for a Water-Sensitive” highlights how absorbent coatings can load the soil and redirect water to prevent flooding.
The Swinburne Physics Club helped Georgina Aiuto (bottom right) find her topic for Let’s Torque.
Communication is the key
Students participated in workshops at the Royal Society of Victoria and took the Communication for Scientists course unity. Mr Nicholls says these classes help students improve their science communication and presentation skills.
“Too often in academia, we are used to communicating very obscure topics using technical jargon to our peers,” he says.
Dr Zaferanloo says the programs aim to develop effective communication skills to reach diverse audiences.
“The current global pandemic has highlighted the importance of science communication and confirms that empowering students with communication skills should be a priority.”
Ms. Aiuto developed her research skills during this experience. “The event workshops were really fun and the students and staff at Start Talking were absolutely lovely,” she says.
Mr. Nicholls encourages those interested in science communication to participate in future events. “If anyone has the slightest desire to step foot in this business, get your name and your face and go! “