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Graduates compete at UCI’s Annual grad slam

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By: Ryan Mikeala Nguyen

The annual Grad Slam took place on Friday, March 8th, at The Cove – Applied Innovation. Graduate students from all disciplines awaited their turn in the spotlight and were hopeful to earn a coveted spot in the top three.

Grad Slam is an annual UC campus-wide competition that allows graduate students to showcase their research to the public as well as improve their presentation skills. Hosted by the Graduate Division, Grad Slam is an award filled competition that acknowledges graduate research excellence.

Each year, 10 graduate finalists have the opportunity to communicate their graduate research conducted in the laboratory to a panel of judges. The top 10 finalists on campus each present their “three-minute thesis” to a panel of judges. Topics ranging from traumatic brain injury discussed by M.D./Ph.D. Ronald Sahyouni, to bottleneck road solutions via variable speed limits presented by civil engineering Ph.D Irene Martinez Josemaria, were pitched.

Ultimately, materials science and engineering Ph.D. Rachel Rosenzweig took first place, molecular biology and biochemistry Ph.D. Stephanie Hachey took second, and neurobiology & behavior Ph.D. Jessica Yaros took third.

Rosenzweig, the first place winner, presented her research on an antimicrobial engineered nature-inspired surface that can coat medical devices to prevent hospital-acquired infections. Today, many hospital infection cases arise due to bacteria growing in the warm environments of these devices. Rosenzweig has kept this in mind and has developed this antimicrobial surface with a technique called Nanoimprint Lithography. This method heats up the surface and creates a non-scale barrier, where no bacteria can grow, without adding any additional chemicals.

Rosenzweig will now move forward to the UC system-wide Grad Slam that will take place on Friday, May 10, at the LinkedIn headquarters in San Francisco.

Second place finalist Stephanie Hachey presented her cancer screening breakthrough, a tumor on a chip. This device was created to reduce the time and cost for anticancer drug development a patient may encounter. The tumor on a chip allows a patient’s actual tumor cells to be tested with a variety of drugs all while including actual living blood vessels that feed the tumor.

Hachey has competed in Grad Slam in the past and at first wanted to sharpen her presentation skills.

“When I first competed, I just wanted to polish my communication skills, be more relatable in my presentations,” Hachey said. “I didn’t place in 2017, so I wanted to redeem myself this year, give it another shot before I graduated. This is my last chance to do it and I’m happy with how I’ve progressed.”

Third place winner Jessica Yaros’ research topic was about the Other-Race Effect (ORE), in which people are likely to recognize faces of their own race better than other races. This effect highlights the dangers of eyewitness testimony. Yaros utilized “mnemonic discrimination” to better grasp why this effect occurs.

“The results of this study will give me a neurobiological explanation for how the Other-Race Effect arises in human behavior,” Yaros said.

Her advice for prospective Grad Slam competitors is to start and practice:

“Just do it. It’s going to be nerve wracking but I recommend starting early because you might not get it the first time. Getting that starting at the top early on, I’ve been working on this specific verification of this talk for three years and it’s just getting better and better. Working on that sort of pitch really early on and collecting more research, you’ll be able to communicate it more effectively,” Yaros said.

Grad Slam coincidentally occured on International Women’s Day. With the top three winners being all women that exhibited female brilliance and innovation and the finalists all striving towards making the world a better place, Grad Slam successfully encompassed the groundbreaking ideas graduate students have to offer.