Pitch to save the reef wins College 3MT

Students Research

CECC 3MT candidates Dan Virah-Sawmy, Jonathan Ting, Fiona Yu, and Fazeleh Kazemian pose with judges Professor Chris Kellett, Dr Michael Norrish, and Professor Alex Zafiroglu; and Associate Dean Higher Degree Research Professor Dirk Pattinson.
CECC 3MT candidates Dan Virah-Sawmy, Jonathan Ting, Fiona Yu, and Fazeleh Kazemian pose with judges Professor Chris Kellett, Dr Michael Norrish, and Professor Alex Zafiroglu; and Associate Dean Higher Degree Research Professor Dirk Pattinson.

Congratulations to The Australian National University (ANU) PhD student Dan Virah-Sawmy, who won over both the judges and crowd at our recent 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) event for his engaging pitch on using sustainable technologies to save the Great Barrier Reef.

This year’s ANU College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics (CECC) 3MT final was held on 21 June 2023. It featured energetic talks on how we can reimagine the use of technology in our world; from the Barrier Reef to Marvel universe, and in chemical systems to molecules.

3MT is an international competition for higher degree research candidates to showcase their research and its importance to an audience.

An 80,000 word PhD thesis would usually take around nine hours to communicate. Yet in 3MT, candidates are given only three minutes and a single PowerPoint slide to present.

“That’s a compression factor of 180. Imagine, someone asks you to run 180 times as fast as you normally would!” said Professor Dirk Pattinson, CECC Associate Dean Higher Degree Research.

Our 2023 College finalists

School of Engineering PhD candidate Dan Virah-Sawmy was selected as our winner for his thesis on saving the Great Barrier Reef, and also took home the People’s Choice Award from the audience vote.

His research examines how scientists can build cloud brightening machines that help reverse the effects of bleaching on this ecosystem using cleaner energy sources.

“A single cloud brightening machine would not be able to cool the whole reef, we’d need hundreds of these machines and they consume a lot of energy and power. Isn’t it ironic that we’re trying to save the reef using fossil fuels?” said Mr Virah-Sawmy.

“With my research we are going to get rid of fossil fuels, save the Great Barrier Reef, and leave something meaningful behind to future generations.”

Our CECC 3MT judges - Professor Chris Kellett, Dr Michael Norrish, and Professor Alex Zafiroglu - had a difficult task in this year’s competition, with an excellent range of presentations from our next generation of PhD students to entertain the crowd.

Fiona Yu presented on understanding chemical systems, and how the new age of exascale computing means we could access more accurate and computationally feasible models.

“Accurate techniques to model chemical systems are out there, but they are extremely slow. They don’t take advantage of the computing resources that we have available today,” said Ms Yu.

“If we can learn and understand how drugs find their targets in the body, then not only can we save billions of dollars, we can also accelerate the process of drug development. This would help improve the livelihood of people in our community.”

Fazeleh Kazemian presented on ‘monster molecules’, outlining the ways we can tap into tiny but mighty molecules to quickly make large and significant computing calculations.

“If you look at the molecules a little bit closer, be able to make more of these tiny particles with infinite potential that will hopefully transform all our lives.”

Jonathan Ting’s research focuses on metal nanoparticles, comparable to those magical Infinity Stones seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“I make a lot of fake nanoparticles in the computer and describe them mathematically to show patterns that we might not see. So instead of guessing and trying things out, we have a treasure map that helps provide direction to make better nanoparticles,” said Mr Ting.

“I hope that by building my own version of JARVIS, Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, we’ll be able to make more of these tiny particles with infinite potential that will hopefully transform all our lives.”

Well done to all our fantastic PhD candidates who presented in 3MT, and thanks to everyone who joined us on the day.


As the winner of our College round, Mr Virah-Sawmy will go on to represent CECC disciplines in the ANU 3MT final in Llewellyn Hall on 27 July. Book tickets to join in person or register to watch the livestream. The winner of the #ANU3MT final will then compete in the Asia Pacific final, held at the University of Queensland.

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