Grad students pitch inspiring, groundbreaking research at 3MT Ontario

Winners 3MT Ontario
Winners 3MT Ontario

“An 80,000-word PhD thesis would take four hours to present. Their time limit … three minutes.”

This was the message displayed to approximately 140 people who gathered at York University for 3MT Ontario, an international research competition where graduate students have three minutes to present their research and its impact to a panel of non-specialist judges and peers.

The “Dragon’s Den”-style competition highlighted the research of 20 graduate students, with the top five moving on to the nationals hosted by the Canadian Association of Graduate Students. Research presented covered a diverse selection of academic inquiries, from shooting moon rocks with lasers to painting metal with without paint to substitute glow-in-the-dark blood.

The event was hosted for the first time at York University by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS), and was held in the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre. It was divided into two segments, with 10 presenters during each who pitched their research to judges Rob Baker (guitarist for The Tragically Hip and six-time 3MT Ontario judge), Chirstopher Hilkene (York MES ’96 and president of the Clean Water Foundation), Karen Kraft Sloan (York MES ’90, with more than 40 years in government and the private sector) and Natasha Ramsahai (York MSc ’01 and meteorologist at 680 News, CityNews and “Breakfast Television”).

Baker told presenters the event is a “highlight of his calendar.”

“You guys are amazing,” he said. “If I wasn’t a judge, I would come just to observe. I feel inspired … and I feel comforted knowing we are in very good hands.”

Winners, left to right: fifth place, Gregory Lui (University of Waterloo); fourth place, Amelie Litalien (Royal Military College of Canada); third place, Tianqi Xie (Western University); second place, Daniella Briotto Faustino (Carleton University); and first place, Matthew Berry (McMaster University)

Ultimately, judges selected the following five presenters for their ability to communicate, engage the audience and clearly present their research.

First place: Matthew Berry, McMaster University – “Scientifically Quantifying the Craft of Acting”
Berry won $1,000 for his presentation that explained his attempt to develop a new field devoted to analyzing the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying the production, perception and synthesis of these areas. He is a second-year PhD student in the NeuroArts Lab in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour. (Listen to an audio clip from CBC’s “Here and Now” interview with 3MT Ontario winner Matthew Berry.)

Second place: Daniella Briotto Faustino, Carleton University – “Bend Passwords for People with Vision Impairment”
Briotto Faustino won $500 for her presentation on her research on developing solutions to accessible password input methods for people with vision impairment so they can retain privacy. She has a postgraduate diploma in Information Technology Management and is currently working on her master’s thesis.

Third place: Tianqi Xie, Western University – “Are We Alone? Unlocking the Mystery of the Moon”
Xie won $250 for her presentation on her research on “shooting lasers at rocks from the Earth and the moon,” designed to detect any signs of life. She is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Earth Sciences. She was also the recipient of the Presenter’s Choice Award ($250).

Fourth place: Amelie Litalien, Royal Military College of Canada – “A Plant Worthy of its Salt”
Litalien won fourth place for her presentation on the environmental remediation of salt-impacted soils. She began a master’s degree in 2017 in chemistry.

Fifth place: Gregory Lui, University of Waterloo – “Photocatalysts: Using Today’s Waste to Power the Future”
Lui won fifth place for his presentation on using using light-activated catalysts to create clean waste water and generate electricity using only natural sunlight. He is a PhD candidate in chemical engineering.

Fahim Quadir, interim dean of FGS and associate vice-president graduate, congratulated the presenters for their ability to make their research accessible to the public.

“It was, for me, an exceedingly stimulating event,” he said, following the presentations. “You have broken down your highly abstract research ideas and outcomes in a short yet insightful presentation.

“Today, I think you have blown us away with your imagination, your creativity, your passion,” he said, “and … it’s the kind of research that makes a difference.”

The exercise develops academic, presentation and research communication skills. It also supports the development of research students’ capacity to effectively explain their research in language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience. This year marks the sixth time York University has participated in the Canadian competition.

Event background

The first 3MT competition was held at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008, with 160 research higher degree students competing. In 2009 and 2010, the 3MT competition was promoted to other Australian and New Zealand universities and enthusiasm for the concept grew. Since 2011, the popularity of the competition has increased and 3MT competitions are now held in more than 600 universities and institutions across 59 countries worldwide.

In 2013, Ontario hosted its first provincial 3MT competition featuring representatives from 20 graduate schools.