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Molly Grear wins three minute thesis competition

June 19, 2017

"I think my research is pretty charismatic on its own. I study whales and renewable energy.”

CEE Ph.D. student Molly Grear, center, wins UW's first Three Minute Thesis Competition. Pictured with second place winner, Gabby Barsh and Dean of the Graduate School, Dave Eaton.  

Three minutes may not be very much time, but if you’re Ph.D. student Molly Grear, it’s plenty of time to impress judges. Grear won the first place prize at UW’s first Three Minute Thesis Competition in May 2017.

“I think I did a good job of including humor in my talk and creating a narrative,” Grear said. “Plus, I think my research is pretty charismatic on its own. I study whales and renewable energy.” 

First introduced at The University of Queensland in 2008, Three Minute Thesis Competitions are now held at more than 200 universities throughout the world. Open to Ph.D. students, the competition challenges students to effectively explain their research in layman’s terms in a short amount of time.

For Grear, distilling her research into user-friendly terms is something she practiced during winter quarter, thanks to a science communication class that taught her to limit jargon when talking about her research.

“We actually had to prepare an elevator pitch for our research during the class, so I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say at the competition!” Grear said.

During her three-minute presentation, Grear impressed judges and audience members with her energetic storytelling and vivid descriptions of her research, which focuses on the environmental impacts of marine renewable energy, which is becoming increasingly popular as a resource to help combat climate change.

Despite the benefits, however, not much is currently known in terms of how marine wildlife may be impacted by the spinning blades of tidal turbines, which look like underwater wind turbines. To address this, Grear’s research analyzes how marine mammals, such as killer whales in the Puget Sound, may be impacted. She characterizes the material properties of marine mammal skin and blubber using the same methods used to study the material properties of steel and concrete. She then uses this data to create a finite element analysis of a turbine blade striking an animal.

Grear competed against 12 other finalists from 10 different departments across campus. To qualify for the competition, all finalists submitted a three-minute video. First and second place winners were selected by a panel of five judges and a people’s choice award was voted on by 80 audience members.

The competition was organized jointly by UW Graduate School’s Core Programs and the UW Libraries Research Commons.