The urban gold mine – a winning three minute thesis

With an entry on his research on extracting gold from recycled waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), Euan Doidge, PhD Student of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, has won the Highly Commended Award of the Universitas 21 Three Minute Thesis competition.

By Sophie Craik

Condensing research into a thesis takes a significant amount of time and patience. Taking that thesis and putting it into a three-minute presentation? An incredible challenge, indeed.

That’s where the Three Minute Thesis competition comes in.

The competition

First developed by the University of Queensland in 2008, the Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT®) challenges research students to communicate the significance of their projects to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes.

It is run by Universitas 21, a network of 25 research-led universities around the world. U21 aims to promote and achieve collaboration, co-operation and work of a comprehensive nature, drawing on a strong bond of collegiality found between similarly-minded universities.

A first round is conducted by each partner university, with the winner being put through to the main competition.

Universitas 21 Provost Professor Bairbre Redmond explained that “The U21 3MT® contributes significantly to these goals by providing a key platform across which students can engage with different cross-cultural and disciplinary perspectives.

It also offers U21 students an important opportunity to present their research to a wide, international audience while learning valuable communication skills in the process.

This is the fifth year of the U21 3MT® competition and it remains one of the highlights of the work of the U21 Researcher Engagement Cluster.

This year the People’s Choice award again saw an increase of over 1000 online votes to reach 4600 votes overall. This increased reach is recognition of the high standard of presentations and engaging content that we continue to receive from our entrants.

U21 students come from some of the finest universities in the world and, as we have grown to expect, the quality of their 3MT® presentations is truly impressive across a wide range of disciplines.”

This year’s overall winner was Samuel Ramsey, a PhD student at the University of Maryland, College Park, with his discussion of his research project, “Varroa destructor: the curious case of the bee mite’s bite”. His paper investigates how the parasite, one of the main reasons for the decline in the honey bee population, has such an impact.

"I am incredibly proud to have represented the university at the 3 Minute Thesis UK and U21 competitions, and delighted to bring the Highly Commended Award home to Edinburgh! Many thanks go to everyone from the School of Chemistry, the Institute for Academic Development, the University and beyond for all your support!"

Euan Doidge, PhD Student of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh and winner of the Highly Commended Award

Molecular level gold panning

These are the words that Euan uses to describe the technique his research has been developing, with an aim of extracting gold from recycled waste and electrical electronic equipment (WEEE), like mobile phones.

Containing 300 times more gold per tonne than naturally occurring rocks and ore, Euan explains how we can capitalise on the ‘urban gold mine’ that is waste electronic equipment.

You can watch Euan Doidge’s 3 minute thesis here:

Euan described his experience in taking part in the competition: “The 3MT® competition has been amazing! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of the fantastic competitors throughout the various stages of the competition.

It’s been a great opportunity to meet other PhD students and the people who support them, as well as learn little chunks of information on novel research across an amazingly diverse range of subjects. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to present my research in a different and memorable way that can resonate with a wide audience and engage in the discussions that follow.

I am incredibly proud to have represented the university at the 3 Minute Thesis UK and U21 competitions, and delighted to bring the Highly Commended Award home to Edinburgh! Many thanks go to everyone from the School of Chemistry, the Institute for Academic Development, the University and beyond for all your support!”

The University of Edinburgh is proud to be a part of the Universitas 21 network. To find out more about our connection to U21, visit our networks page:

Networks – U21