The science of light: University of Waikato 3MT 2017

17 August 2017

2017 3MT winners
L-R: overall winner Harpreet Kaur, Dean of Te Mata Kairangi School of Graduate Research Professor Kay Weaver, & runner up Bridgette Farnworth

Now an established part of 600 university calendars in 59 countries, the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is an annual competition that challenges doctoral students to present their research to a non-specialist audience in no more than three minutes, using one (static) slide. Condensing three years of research, data collection, analysis and theorising into 180 seconds is no mean feat.

The University of Waikato has been running its own Three Minute Thesis competition since 2008, and this year’s winner was Harpreet Kaur, from the Faculty of Science and Engineering. She will go on to compete at the Asia-Pacific 3MT competition, hosted by the University of Queensland in September.

For Harpreet, entering the competition was a way to gain public speaking experience and personal confidence. She came to Waikato from India on a doctoral scholarship, and is studying ways to detect kiwifruit quality using light-based, light-weight equipment, under chief supervisor Associate Professor Rainer Kunnemeyer. Kiwifruit is expensive and hard to find in her home country, but fortunately Harpreet has developed a taste for the fruit during her studies. Her presentation was so engaging, she took out the People’s Choice Award as well.

Runner up Bridgette Farnworth, also from the Faculty of Science and Engineering, is researching the feasibility of using light to deter rats and mice from entering bird sanctuaries where fences have been damaged or destroyed. Originally intending to research kiwi (the bird, not the fruit), Bridgette had not previously thought of researching predator deterrents, as she had thought it would be about killing the predators.

Both Harpreet and Bridgette are in their third year of their PhD research, and will put their research winnings ($1000 each for the winner and runner up, and $500 for the People’s Choice Award) to good use as their final submission dates approach.

Harpreet was also the inaugural recipient of the Professor John D McCraw Memorial Trophy, carved and donated by friend of Professor McCraw, traditional carver Wiremu Puke (Ngāti Wairere, Ngāti Porou). Professor McCraw was the founding Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Waikato, and had a lifelong interest in science communication and promoting the development of oratory skills in his graduate students.

The concept for the Three Minute Thesis competition came to a former Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Queensland while he was taking a shower. Drought-related water restrictions meant Queenslanders were asked to use a three minute timer while showering, and the Dean fell to pondering what else could be accomplished in three minutes.

3MT is supported by Hamilton chartered accountants Prior Blackburn and the University of Waikato Foundation. Presentations were judged on comprehension, engagement and communication by judges Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Professor Robyn Longhurst, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori Dr Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai and Waikato Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive William Durning.

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