Ten finalists competed for first place in the 2022 University of York Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition final.
Pitching themselves against the clock to communicate the impact of their research, these PhD students delivered captivating and inspiring research presentations, showcasing the strengths of postgraduate research at York, in just three minutes.
Congratulations to all who took part and to our 2022 winners!
1st place: Laura Wiggins (Biology) - Eye spy with my little eye... a chemo-resistant cancer cell!
2nd place: Alice Wilson (Sociology) - How Tiny Houses Are Saving Women's Lives
3rd place: Liz Quinlan (Archaeology) - The King of Fish: Medieval Salmon in the North Sea
People's Choice: Laura Wiggins (Biology) - Eye spy with my little eye... a chemo-resistant cancer cell!
Meet the finalists
Xin Chen Cai
Rehabilitating stroke patients with augmented reality
Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability around the world.
While current technology have allowed us to make significant advances in the understanding how stroke affects our brain, there is more that can be done to push the boundaries of this understanding.
Xin Chen's research involves the use of augmented reality (AR) to build an experimental simulation for studying brain activities. AR systems allow the experimenter to generate stimuli anywhere they want around the subject, giving the experimenter more control over the experiment and more range of motion for the subject.
The hypothesis is that the use of AR would reveal significant differences between the brain of a stroke patient and that of a healthy volunteer, differences which cannot be captured with a traditional 2D display, differences which will enable the development of new rehabilitation techniques that significantly improves the way of lives of stroke patients.
Shaping stars for a brighter future
By heating up gas fuel to very, very high temperatures (around a hundred million degrees), it’s possible to make energy in the same way the Sun does (a process called “nuclear fusion”). If we could reliably do this on Earth, we’d have “artificial stars”, providing virtually limitless, safe, low-carbon power. Experiments show this could be done – but these “star machines” need be optimised to maximise the energy they produce.
Bob's PhD helps this optimisation, using computer simulations to predict the behaviour of possible stars as he tweaks with the design, for example by changing the shape of the star. Certain star shapes are undesirable – they cause bad “weather” (or “plasma turbulence”) inside the hot gas - this cools down the star and less energy is produced. Bob is using simulations to study how star shape affects star weather, so we can optimise star design and maximise energy production from fusion devices.
I need YOU to play games for science!
Imagine you’re playing a video game.
You load into a giant world full of possibilities, with no limits on what you can and can’t do. Well, the game tells you things you COULD do, probably something about "being the chosen one" and "saving the world." But there’s also a cool mountain, and this other person wants your help, and ooh what’s that over there?
These so-called open world games let players do what they want when they want. But then, how are players making these choices? Why do they choose what they do? Maybe if we watch people as they play, we can learn something about these choices. That’s where Nathan's research comes in; he asks people to play games, and he watches them. By combining this gameplay data with interviews, he aims to show how we can better understand the mysterious mechanisms of choice-making in real time.
Once upon a mind… sound, tingles and love
Have you heard of ASMR on YouTube or TikTok? This social media phenomenon could be key in fighting the ongoing mental health epidemic. ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is attributed to a relaxing tingling sensation in the head and back in response to stimuli like whispering, tapping or scratching. ASMR-inducing media has become viral on the internet especially as it helps people to reduce anxiety and depression.
The sound of some of these videos, where actors play fictional roles such as a doctor or a makeup artist, is truly immersive. It’s thought that this sound realness might make people’s tingles stronger. To provide scientific evidence, Clau produced some ASMR-inducing videos with different levels of sound immersion, and measured people’s body and emotional responses while watching these clips. Their research explores potential links between the sound immersion and experiencing stronger tingles, which could lead to even more health benefits!
The King of Fish: Medieval salmon in the North Sea
Archaeology isn’t always about decorated pottery or massive monuments, and sometimes the most interesting bones on a site aren’t from human beings, but from the food they ate. Zooarchaeology is the study of animal bones found on archaeological sites, and usually involves pets, livestock, and other species which live in close proximity to humans. By looking at bones we can learn more about how and when people ate certain foods and the cultural, economic and social forces behind the essential act of feeding oneself.
And that’s not all– even a single species, like the Atlantic salmon, can teach us about the past environment, changes in human activity, and even provide crucial information that can be used to safeguard the modern populations of these endangered fish. Humans have been eating, catching, and admiring salmon for thousands of years and zooarchaeology can bring them with us into the future.
Understanding the influence of resilience on midwives' career related decisions
Resilience can be developed, and is widely seen as a positive attribute for healthcare professionals such as midwives to possess. There is a national shortage of midwives, with many making the decision to leave the profession sooner, and in greater numbers than ever seen before. Resilience has been considered as a possible panacea to the staff retention issues within the National Health Service (NHS).
Helen's PhD study explored midwives’ perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of the influence of resilience in relation to any decisions they make about their careers, including leaving the profession. Results suggest that those who felt valued, empowered and able to achieve a good work life balance, were more satisfied within their role and were able to recognise their resilience levels fluctuating. Her findings will contribute to developing strategies to support and retain midwives in the profession and have established that the development of resilience may influence this.
“I’m on the inside looking out”: Depressed individuals as spectators
In his research, Angelos examines testimonies, memoirs, and autobiographies by depressed people to better understand experiences of depression. Depressed people often report that they experience the world as alien, foreign, and unfamiliar and that they feel disconnected from other people. They have described their experiences as similar to being mannequins at a store window or spectators at a theatre play.
In such cases, one is restricted to merely being a spectator toward the world, without feeling able to meaningfully participate in it. At the same time, they observe other people continuing their life as normal. We can therefore understand depressed people as experiencing the world as spectators, as if they are “on the inside looking out”. In developing our understanding of experiences of depression, we can improve treatment and therapy for the 300 million people who suffer from depression worldwide.
Eye spy with my little eye… a chemo-resistant cancer cell!
We as humans are hugely diverse in the way we look, walk and talk… the same can be said about our cells! Experts are trained to recognise a cancer cell from a healthy cell but once we know that a cell is cancerous, what next? Not all cancer cells behave the same, a proportion of them manage to resist chemotherapy treatment causing patients to relapse, often with a more aggressive form of cancer than their original diagnosis. It is therefore vital that we identify and monitor these resistant cells to understand what makes them so stubborn.
Laura's project involves the use of machine learning and time-lapse imaging to track cancer cell behaviour and detect cells that continue to thrive despite being treated with chemotherapy. She has designed a user-friendly app called “CellPhe” so that others can make use of her methods with just a few clicks of a button.
How tiny houses are saving women's lives
Tiny houses are small dwellings often built on trailer bases. They incorporate renewable energy sources and are much more affordable to build and to live in than most conventional homes.
Alice's research looks at 33 women who have designed and built their own tiny houses and how this affordable, sustainable type of home has changed their lives.
Alkaloids: For killing, curing and cooking
Plants are super underrated. They make: their own food from CO2 and water; the oxygen we breathe; and thousands of chemicals, which humans have used since antiquity. But despite their importance to our planet, exactly how plants make these chemicals remains elusive.
Did you know? Two million kilograms of poppy straw is harvested in the UK each year for just 80 tonnes of morphine. That’s a terrible 4% yield! If we can understand how plants make these valuable chemicals, we can make their production more efficient, produce less waste and have cheaper drugs for everyone.
Meet the judges
Jenny Gimpel, Head of Brand and Communications, Kingston University - previously Head of Research Communications, Wellcome Trust and Director of Communications at Springer Nature.
Dr Adam Featherstone, Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation Fellow, University of York.
Prof Kate Arnold, Dean of the York Graduate School and Professor in Ecology at the University of York.
Laura Cowell, 3MT prize winner 2021 with The recipe for making muscle and PhD researcher in the Department of Mechanistic Biology.