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2019 Young Persons’ World Lecture Competition Experience

As we approach the end of 2019, our planet faces many challenges that could dictate the fate of our society.  To solve these issues, many are looking to scientists and engineers to come up with new technologies and innovations to pave the way for future generations. For such a solution to mature, researchers must be able to clearly convey their complex technical work and its impact to investors, government and the general population to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle to make a global change.  In May 2019, the McDonald Institute teamed up with the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) to host the inaugural Canadian chapter of a competition that encouraged young researchers to develop their presentation skills and highlight the impact their research has on the global community.

2019 YPWLC Canadian Finalist, Morgan Lehtinen, in London, UK.

2019 YPWLC Canadian Finalist, Morgan Lehtinen, in London, UK.

Since 2005 the IOM3 has held the annual Young Persons’ World Lecture Competition (YPWLC) which gives young researchers the opportunity to give a lecture of their research pertaining to the field of materials, minerals, mining, packaging, clay technology or wood science and engineering on a world stage.  Candidates from all over the world competed in their respective countries Young Persons’ Lecture Competition (YPLC) and the finalists are brought together for an event filled week concluding with the world competition.


One of the most rewarding aspects throughout my graduate studies has been to share my research with the chemical community at conferences and other scientific meetings.  My current research focuses on the development of smart filters and their use in the separation of oil and water. This new tool could be used to provide a greener option to current industrial separation methods – particularly regarding oil remediation or treating wastewater.   After encouragement from my PhD supervisor, Prof. Guojun Liu in the Department of Chemistry, I applied for the YPLC and after a tough day of competition was named the Canadian finalist for my lecture titled “H2Only: Smart Filters for Efficient Oil/Water Separation”. This title earned me a spot in the World Final held on October 10, 2019 in London, UK.

Public speaking was not something that came naturally to me. If you told high school Morgan that she would one day be competing in an international lecture competition I would have not believed a word of it.  By stepping out of my comfort zone and putting myself in many uncomfortable situations, I turned a once terrifying task into one that I enjoy and find very rewarding.

2019 YPWLC finalists and Dr. Phil Bischler, Chair of Judging Panel and IOM3 Board Member, outside the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) in London UK.

2019 YPWLC finalists and Dr. Phil Bischler, Chair of Judging Panel and IOM3 Board Member, outside the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) in London UK.

The 2019 YPWLC brought together nine researchers from United Kingdom, South Africa, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia, Australia, Brazil and Canada to London for a weeklong event.  The organizers at the IOM3 jam-packed an itinerary for the week; to explore London, learn about the exciting applications of materials science, and to give back by hopefully inspiring the next generation of scientists through outreach activities.


Arrival Day – Saturday, October 5th

London has been a city to visit on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and I could not wait to step off the plane and into the mist.  After surviving a few heart attacks when forgetting we were driving on the other side of the road, I arrived at our hotel located in the heart of London just a couple minutes walk north of Piccadilly Circus.  The week kicked off with a welcome dinner for the candidates hosted by the organizers of the competition and I knew right away it was going to be an amazing couple of days.  The nine of us were all equally excited to be there and instantly clicked, eager to know what awaited us in the coming week.

Day 1 - Sunday, October 6th

2019 Matopoly Winners presented by the IOM3 Young Members’ Committee.

2019 Matopoly Winners presented by the IOM3 Young Members’ Committee.

After an early Saturday night to combat the jetlag, I was feeling much better Sunday morning for our first event, titled “Matopoly”, or in other words, a materials science-inspired Monopoly scavenger hunt around the city of London. Confused…? Because I was!  We were split into teams with other young scientists in the London area to compete in a photo scavenger hunt where we had to solve materials-science based clues that described various London landmarks.  This activity gave us the opportunity to get to know our way around London in only a couple of hours and to see many of the famous sights in a single afternoon.  After using the knowledge I learned from many years of watching “The Amazing Race”, and lucking out with a few London locals on my team, we ended up winning Matopoly and received an official Materials Science version of Monopoly as a prize.  The day concluded in the most British way possible by stopping for a pint and fish and chips at a local pub.


Day 2 - Sunday, October 7th

The second day started off with an early train ride to Derby where we were to have a tour of the Rolls Royce facilities.  When I first heard Rolls Royce I automatically thought of the luxurious cars, but did you know Rolls Royce is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aircraft engines?  We were given a behind the scenes tour of the Rolls Royce Heritage Trust Museum and Engine Overhaul Facility which completes repairs on any of their engines already in circulation.  Here we were shown the amazing applications that hundreds of years of materials science and engineering development have produced and where the future of the industry is going.  After arriving back in London, we finished the day by relaxing with dinner and bowling.


2019 YPWLC finalists with various organizers and Rolls Royce representatives on our visit/tour to the Rolls Royce Heritage Trust Museum, showing the sheer magnitude of jet engines, and the Rolls Royce Derby Branch.


Day 3 - Tuesday, October 8th

Prior to arriving in London, we were asked to prepare a shortened, simplified version of our lecture to be presented to a group of primary school students.  We were invited to Holy Cross Primary School where approximately 60 students from grades 4 to 6 were anxiously awaiting their “special guests” in the auditorium.   The children were eager to listen, participate and ask questions and it was wonderful to see how aware they were of the wide world around them; especially regarding science and the environmental concerns facing our planet.  It is common for graduate students to get trapped inside their “research bubble” and forget about how challenging and respected their work is.  This experience was very humbling and reminded me to be proud of how far I have come. After leaving the school, we had collectively hoped to have inspired some of those little minds into one day become scientists or engineers. Later, we were given the afternoon for free time and I spent a few hours visiting Buckingham Palace and shopping along Oxford Street.  That evening, the IOM3 held their annual Awards and Publications Dinner with us as the special guests. We had a wonderful dinner and met many industry executives and members of the IOM3 and honoured the 2019 awards recipients.

Nine people stand together and pose below a sign reading
A group of adults smile, wave and high-five a group of children running past

2019 YPWLC finalists enjoying our time sharing the impact of science and how much fun it can be at Holy Cross Primary School.

Day 4 - Wednesday, October 9th

In preparation for the lecture competition, we spent the morning practicing and filming our lectures to be posted online after the competition (link included at the end of this article).  In the afternoon, we went on the highly anticipated London Bus tour across the river ending with a ride on the London Eye.  Unfortunately, Big Ben was under Big Construction while we were in London, but the views were still breathtaking.  The final event was an information session at the IOM3 headquarters with a variety of speakers providing tips and tricks on how to become an International Chartered Engineer or Scientist, which is something to consider during our careers in order to receive professional distinction.


Day 5 - Thursday October 10th

We finally made it to competition day! I could feel my nerves beginning to brew when I woke up, but our early morning trip to visit the Cambridge University Materials Science Department and they were quickly diminished.  Here we had various graduate students show us around their building and corresponding facilities while discussing and sharing ideas about our research.  I was specifically in awe of their microscopy wing which was filled with various state of the art systems and the extremely complex infrastructure needed to maintain such instruments.  After a quick stroll through beautiful downtown Cambridge, we were back on the train to London to get ready for the lecture competition.

Eleven people pose together and smile, below a sign on a building reading

2019 YPWLC Finalists after our tour of the University of Cambridge: Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy by IOM3 President and University of Cambridge Professor Dr. Serena Best.

The organizers brought us together one last time before the competition for a quick pep talk to remind us of our past successes at our national finals and to enjoy this unique experience.  Surprisingly, I was not that nervous, just excited to share my passion for my research and the environment to a global audience.  All the candidates agreed that we were no longer “competitors”, but new friends. Friends from different places, cultures, and ways of life, brought together to excite others about the positive impacts of science.  The talent of the candidates was incredible, and their lectures covered a wide variety of topics from acid mine drainage remediation to biosensors for medical applications to high-temperature coatings for jet turbine blades.  I was honoured to be included in such a talented group of researchers but was even more honoured to have come in third place!  This recognition was the cherry on top of an amazing week in London, and I left with a newfound confidence in myself, my research and that the future of science is in good hands!

Morgan stands next to a podium and presentation, speaking to an audience

Presenting my lecture “H2Only: Smart Filters for Efficient Oil/Water Separation”

Morgan Lehtinen holds up a box and a cheque while posing with four other people below a screen reading

Receiving the 3rd place award from Dr. Phil Bischler, Chair of Judging Panel, Georgia Gomes Bemfica, CBMM, Prof. Serena Best, IOM3 President, and Dr. Kate Thorton, IOM3 Vice-President (left to right).

I am extremely proud to have represented Canada and Queen’s University at the YPWLC 2019. This week reminded me that science is a collaboration and by working together and sharing ideas we can solve any problem we are faced with. This experience will remain one of the top memories from my time at Queen’s and I will take the skills acquired through the entirety of my career. I encourage any young researchers to apply for the 2020 YPLC because not only is it an amazing learning opportunity, but a chance to visit a new country and meet new friends and colleagues from around the world. I have included links below to the technical talks and an overview video of our experience if you would like more information.

Link to Technical Talks:

Link to 2019 YPWLC Video:

I would like to thank the McDonald Institute for their immense support in the preparation process and throughout the competition.  Also, thank you to my supervisor Prof. Guojun Liu for being an amazing mentor and always believing in me.  Additional thanks to my research group, the Queen’s Department of Chemistry, my family and my partner for their continued encouragement and attention when listening to me practice my lecture WAY too many times.  Finally, thank you to the IOM3 and the sponsors (CBMM and Rolls Royce) for hosting an amazing competition with such an important message.


pictures provided by IOM3 YPWLC 2019 conference organizers