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Concordia student wins top prize at 3MT nationals

The top three presentations at this year’s 3-Minute Thesis competition tackled chemotherapy, oil pipelines, and asphalt.

By NATALIE SAMSON | JUN 11 2019

The Canadian Association of Graduate Students has announced the winners of the 2019 3-Minute Thesis competition. The winners are:

Participants in 3MT are challenged to explain their research and its impact live to a general audience in three minutes or less, with only one slide to accompany their speech. The first-place winner takes home a cash prize of $1,500 and registration for the annual CAGS conference. Second place receives $1,000 and the people’s choice winner earns $500.

In a press release, CAGS states that the judging panel had a particularly difficult task this year. The three national winners were selected from 12 regional finalists. “This gives me hope for the future. There are all these awesome people doing incredible work,” said judge Nicola Luksic, a documentary producer with CBC Radio.

The winning presentation by Ms. Arezi, a second-year master’s student in biochemistry, focused on her work to create an “intelligent” drug-delivery carrier for cancer treatments capable of targeting cancer cells exclusively, without affecting healthy cells. Such a development would reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, like hair loss, and lead to better quality of life for cancer patients. In her presentation, Ms. Arezi, who has a background in pharmacology, compares the process she’s working on to a “nano-size pizza deliveryman … who only delivers to the right address.”

While she’s hopeful that her research team can collaboratively reach this goal in their lab, she also acknowledges the huge challenge they face. “Of course, in real life there are still many challenges that need to be overcome before intelligent drug-delivery carriers can be used in humans to treat cancer,” she said. “That’s because cancer is not just one disease; there are many different types and many variations.”

In her presentation, Ms. Subramanya used poutine as a sort of bait-and-switch tactic to jump into her work on oil and pipeline research. The master’s student in chemical engineering uses spectroscopic tools to identify the compounds in bitumen that lead to pipeline blockages, which will then get broken down by forces like temperature and pressure. It’s part of a process called “partial upgrading” that aims to make bitumen “more flowable” for pipeline transportation, she said. “The Canadian oil sands industry has a notorious reputation for its heavy carbon footprint. It’s also not a secret that building new pipelines is not the most sustainable solution in the long-run. Partial upgrading eliminates the need to use a diluting chemical, which in turn increases the pipeline capacity by up to 30 percent.”

The people’s choice winner, Ms. Carreño, discussed her work to improve asphalt production to reduce long-term maintenance costs of roads. The master’s student in chemical and petroleum engineering posits that instead of repairing potholes again and again, a more sustainable solution can be found in tackling the root cause of “pavement distress” and developing a more durable pavement that can better weather these variables. Her research concerns developing a higher-quality asphalt that will lead to better roads and lower maintenance costs.

The results are déjà vu for Ms. Subramanya and Ms. Carreño. The latter took second place at the Western regional finals earlier this year, where the former was again crowned people’s choice. Ms. Carreño, who is from Colombia, is also the first international student to represent U of Calgary at 3MT.

All 12 finalist videos are available on the CAGS website.

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