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Gas powered reefs & early disease detection highlights at annual 3MT Competition

24 July 2017

PhD candidate Caitlin Lawson, from the UTS Climate Change Cluster (C3), has won the 2017 UTS Science 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition with her presentation titled “Gas-Powered Reefs”.

Tara Nguyen (audience choice winner and highly commended); Caitlin Lawson (winner); Anantdeep Kaur (runner-up); Hao He (highly commended). Image by Filip Stempien.

PhD students who enter the 3MT competition have to condense their entire thesis project into a three minute talk with the aid of one PowerPoint slide.  This year, 10 students from the School of Life Sciences (SOLs) and School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MAPS) entered the annual competition.

The upcoming researchers spoke about a wide range of fascinating projects, such as using nanotechnology to detect prostate cancer, the importance of protecting seagrasses and whether vaping is dangerous for pregnant women.

Ms Lawson, supervised by Associate Professor David Suggett, won the competition by succinctly explaining her thesis on the gases produced by coral reefs and what effect those gases have on the environment.

She said it’s a hard task to fit a thesis into just three minutes.

“It’s tricky, but I feel like I’ve had a little bit of practice every time I go to see my family and they’re like ‘what do you actually do?’ and I have to condense it down,” Ms Lawson said.

She entered partly because her friend Marco won people’s choice last year, but also because she believes that communicating science research to the public is critical.

“I still get an Uber driver at night and when I mention what I’m doing, I get ‘so what is coral, and is coral bleaching actually happening?’ Every time I get these questions it shocks me,” Ms Lawson said.

The runner-up was awarded to Anantdeep Kaur from MAPS, with her presentation titled “To go gluten free or not? Spit into my tube!”

Ms Kaur’s research, supervised by Dr Olga Shimoni, is looking at developing a saliva based test for detecting celiac disease, an immune reaction to eating gluten. Like Ms Lawson, she found it difficult to summarise her research in three minutes.

“I imagined I was a community member and I asked myself the question, what do I need to know about research in diagnosing celiac disease in three minutes?” Ms Kaur said.

Tara Nguyen won the people’s choice award and highly commended, with her presentation on “Is vaping harmful for your unborn baby?” which investigates the unknown effects of e-cigarettes during maternal pregnancy.

Ms Nguyen said she uses a scenario and minimal jargon to explain her research to community members.

“I’m hoping to provide public health information for pregnant mothers so that they can choose the right option for themselves and their unborn child,” Ms Nguyen said.

Hao He, also from MAPS, received a highly commended for his presentation on the early detection of prostate cancer.

Judges for competition were UTS Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), Professor Glenn Wightwick; Dean of UTS Science, Professor Judith Smith; Director of Higher Degree Research at UTS Science, Dr Hui Chen; and UTS Science Grant Development Coordinator, Mr Nicholas Haskins.

Ms Lawson will go on to compete at the UTS 3MT competition. The winner of that round will advance to the national 3MT competition held in Queensland.