3MT research competition

Punam Rawal, a doctoral student studying pharmacology and toxicology, won first prize in the Three Minute Thesis competition for her research presentation on late-onset Alzheimer's disease

A group of 23 graduate students from the University of Kansas competed in the Three Minute Thesis competition, where they presented their research on topics including Alzheimer's disease and stem cells to a panel of judges from KU and the Lawrence community.

The contest was organized by the office of graduate studies at KU. Students who entered the competition prepared a three minute video communicating their research to non-academic judges. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event took place through a virtual format this year, compared to an in-person presentation in years past.

Punam Rawal, a doctoral student studying pharmacology and toxicology, won first place prize for her research presentation on late-onset Alzheimer's disease, where she focused on a specific gene, clusterin, that increases someone’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’m trying to understand what clusterin does and why mutations in clusterin make someone more prone to developing Alzheimer’s,” Rawal said.

While many scientists are searching for a cure for Alzheimer's disease, Ruwal said her research is unique and important to research on the disease.

“My project will lay a strong foundation to develop clusterin as a novel treatment for Alzheimer’s because we all truly deserve our memories,” Rawal said in her three minute presentation.

Megan Hamilton, a doctoral student studying bioengineering, was chosen by the judges as the second place winner and won the “people’s choice award,” which was voted on by members of the community, for her research on stem cell treatments for knee pain.

“My research focused on the development of the delivery vehicle for stem cells to be used in the body as a therapeutic,” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton compared her research in targeting stem cells to water balloons.

“Throwing water by itself is inefficient, but once you put it inside a water balloon, it allows for a more targeted delivery of the water,” Hamilton said in her presentation. “I’m designing tiny water balloons for stem cells to live inside and allow for a more targeted delivery of those stem cells inside the body.”

While their research related to vastly different topics, both Ruwal and Hamilton said the Three Minute Thesis competition helped them communicate with people outside of the academic world.

“It’s very important for you to communicate your research to a larger audience and a non-expert audience,” Ruwal said. “The Three Minute Thesis really sharpens your skills in communicating to a larger audience.”

By winning first place, Ruwal will represent KU at the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools’ Three Minute Thesis competition in March 2021.