UA Little Rock hosts second annual 3 Minute Thesis Competition

Mechanical and materials engineering student Ali Abdulhussein won UA Little Rock’s second annual 3 Minute Thesis, or 3MT, competition on Nov. 7.

3MT is a competition for doctoral students branded by the University of Queensland in Australia. It challenges students to summarize and present their doctoral research in a short, three-minute “elevator speech.” Competitions have been held at colleges and universities around the world. Winners receive scholarship awards, with cash values of $400 for first place, $300 for runner-up, and $200 for the people’s choice award, awarded by audience vote.

This year’s competition was won by Ali Abdulhussein, with Diamond McGehee as the runner-up and Brian Keltch being awarded the people’s choice award. Other students who participated were Sudha Shanmugam, Evan Xiaowei Liu, Wei Dai, Ujwani Nukala, and Dileen Abdulqader.

Abdulhussein, an international student from Iraq, designed an absorbent block with the specific purpose of cleaning up oil spills. The block is made from cheap materials, can be easily manufactured on a large scale, and preserves the absorbed oil so that it may be used again.

“Oil spills are very bad for the environment,” Abdulhussein said. “They are also very expensive to clean up, and it’s difficult to even do that without harming the environment around them. For this project in particular, I kept the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico in mind and how difficult it was to clean,” Abdulhussein explained.

Abdulhussein credits his advisor, Dr. Alexandru Biris of UA Little Rock’s Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences, for both encouraging him to take part in the competition as well as for his contributions to his project.

“Dr. Biris is one of the top scientists in Arkansas, and I’m very fortunate to be able to work with him,” Abdulhussein said. “There was lots of hard work and even some suffering to get here, but I’m excited that the judges here enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to continuing this research and taking what I’ve learned here back to my home country.”

McGehee, an applied science major from Magnet Cove, took on both the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as well as the daunting task of growing food for long voyages, using a hypothetical journey to Mars as a basis.

“When I started my research, I knew I wanted to do anything involving plants,” McGehee said. “I initially wanted to take a different route, but I received a very generous amount of funding from the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium and that got me interested in all the science that goes into space travel.”

McGehee’s research, which focuses on using carbon nanotubes to create hardier and faster growing fruits and vegetables, was also influenced by the growing movement against GMOs.

“We have the ability already to genetically modify foods for long voyages like one to Mars would be. But some people don’t like that idea, and with nanotubes you can achieve a similar result without actually genetically modifying anything,” McGehee said.

Keltch, a computer science major from Little Rock and a career software developer, brought his many years of experience into his research. His project focuses on software that “talks back” to both its users and programmers and communicates in easy-to-understand and more “human” terms.

“In my 25 years in software developing, it’s always amazed me how much effort goes into it yet how often it’s a failure,” Keltch said. “This project more than anything else is really about the importance of software evolution and prolonging that once we get there.”

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