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How can physical cues of an embryonic heart reroute a heart to grow in an unhealthy way? How can scientists measure the blood flow of a lentil-sized heart at any point in time?

(left to right) Marielle Bond, Kirsten Giesbrecht and Rebecca Radomsky pose for a photo while holding awards.
Left to right: Marielle Bond, Kirsten Giesbrecht and Rebecca Radomsky at the Three Minute Thesis 2023.

Kirsten Giesbrecht (’20 MS), a graduate student in the department of mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences, tackled these questions and received the top prize during UNC-Chapel Hill’s annual Three Minute Thesis competition, held on October 25 as part of University Research Week.

Giesbrecht’s research focuses on modeling blood flow throughout embryonic hearts to better understand how normal physical influences vary from atypical conditions that lead to congenital heart diseases.

“As the heart changes its shape, it also changes the way blood flows which updates those physical cues it feels and continues to grow until it develops into a healthy infant heart – or so we hope,” Giesbrecht said during the presentation.

  • First place: Kirsten Giesbrecht (department of mathematics; College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Second place: Rebecca Radomsky (department of chemistry; College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Peoples’ Choice: Marielle Bond (Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology)

The Graduate School’s annual Three Minute Thesis competition final, an initiative of its CareerWell Professional Development program, helps graduate students distill their research topics in only three minutes for a non-specialist audience to present their groundbreaking research in an easy-to-understand way.

Graduate students from many areas of campus, including in science and in the humanities, presented their research for a panel of judges to determine the top 10 participants who advanced to the final competition.

This year’s juried competition is one of nearly 900 similar competitions around the world and in 85 countries. The Three Minute Thesis is an initiative founded by the University of Queensland in Australia.

The Graduate School’s Dean Beth Mayer-Davis said the Three Minute Thesis is a true celebration of graduate student achievement and gives graduate students an opportunity to foster effective presentation and communication skills.

“Clear and concise communication in the professional world has never been more vital than it is today. Each of our contestants has produced outstanding research and has done what must have seemed unthinkable to them a month ago: taking the knowledge they’ve created in their graduate education and describing it in only three minutes to a discerning panel of judges,” Mayer-Davis said.

2023 Three Minute Thesis final round judges:

  • Yele Aluko: Chief Medical Officer – EY Americas – Business Consulting Health sector
  • Debbie Boles: VP of Research and Development – LabCorp
  • Paul Hunton: President and General Manager – North Carolina Public Radio
  • Paige Ouimet: Executive Director for the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, Associate Dean of the Ph.D. Program and Professor of Finance, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • John Poulton: Senior Scientist – NVIDIA Corporation

By Elizabeth Poindexter, Carolina Graduate School Magazine

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