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« UCSB Graduate Division's Ice Cream Social Was a Tasty Affair | Main | Grad Slam Semifinal Round 1 Recap: 5 Will Move on to Finals »

Grad Slam Semifinal Round 2 Recap: 5 Will Move on to Finals

The five Grad Slam competitors from Semifinal Round 2 advancing to the Finals are, from left, Matt Cieslak, Aubrie Adams, James Allen, Don Daniels, and Michael Zakrewsky. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

How can we …

Prevent wildfires?

Save dying languages?

Combat bacterial infections?

Map the entire ocean’s ecosystem?

Reduce LGBT bullying and harassment?

Find missing structures in the brain?

The 11 graduate student presenters in the second Grad Slam Semifinal round are conducting research to answer these critical questions. During the semifinal round, these incredible students amazed the audience with their professionally crafted, entertaining, and engaging presentations.

Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti calls on audience members during a question-and-answer session while the judges deliberated. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Here is a recap of the 11 presentations:

Don Daniels explained how when languages die, a window into the history, culture, and humanity of the past closes. According to Don, “Language death is a human tragedy.” His research is working to prevent the disappearance of historical languages in Papua New Guinea that were used more than 3,000 years ago.

According to Dayton Horvath, “Life is one big party (or so it seems here at UCSB sometimes). And, keeping this party going is a massive array of energy resources.” While solar power is by far the best renewable energy resource, our energy demands don’t track with the sun. Dayton’s research focuses on artificial photosynthesis as an alternative energy source. He hopes that his research will provide a solution to the increasing demand for energy.

Michael Zakrewsky shared how bacterial infections have been responsible for wiping out entire populations throughout human history (e.g., the plague). Worse yet, bacterial tumors are similar to cancer tumors in that they resist many forms of treatment. Michael is conducting research on a new arsenal of materials that will create extremely potent solutions to kill bacteria with zero irritation to the skin and zero side effects.

Aubrie Adams discussed perceptions of emoticon use by teachers. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Nate Emery flashed an image of a raging wildfire and described how wildfires have profound economic and ecological consequences. His research is looking at plants that absorb water from the fog that rolls in during the summer since these plants are less likely to catch on fire during the dry months. Nate shared that, “This foggy idea of mine will inform fire management.”

Aubrie Adams began her presentation with an image of smiling Dr. Kimo Ah Yun. However, Aubrie shared, “He might look like a nice guy, but he doesn’t come across as a nice guy in email.” Aubrie’s research explores text- and computer-based communication to understand how teachers can show caring and emotion through text. She found that with a small number of emoticon usage, teachers can show caring while still portraying competence.

Alexander Pucher started his campaign with, “My name is Alex, and I want to democratize the cloud.” Alex described how everyone uses and relies on the cloud, yet, only a few companies can afford to run the data centers that host the cloud. This leads to increased costs and decreased innovation. Alex’s research focuses on combining smaller data centers into bigger, more reliable ones in order to help smaller data centers become more competitive, to ensure fairer prices, and to increase the speed of innovation.

Carly Thomsen shared how gay rights movements often project an “Out and Proud” metronormative narrative that does not reflect the narratives of individuals in rural areas. She interviewed 51 lesbians in a rural area and found that they prefer to identify with their rural identity over their sexual identity. Carly encouraged the audience to think about the limits of metronormative narratives.

Audrey Harkness addressed parent messaging about youth sexuality. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

James Allen engaged the audience by asking everyone to take a deep breath. He then asked, “Did you know that half of the oxygen you took in came from microscopic cells in the ocean called phytoplankton?” James is using satellite photos to map plant interactions in the ocean. Rather than waiting months or years for boats to travel the entire ocean to collect data, James uses satellite imaging to create a picture of the ocean in weeks. He hopes to use the data from these images to map out entire ecosystems in the ocean.

Audrey Harkness introduced the audience to two hypothetical male students: Alex and Sam. Alex contributes to LGBT harassment and bullying, while Sam is an LGBT ally and steps in to stop the harassment. There are many factors that can contribute to students’ attitudes about sexuality and one of the important factors is parents. Audrey’s research looks at parent messaging and youth attitudes about sexuality. She hopes to develop evidence-based workshops to help all parents provide better messages to their children.

Matt Cieslak talked about an algorithm he has created to assist research into brain injury. Credit: Patricia MarroquinMira Rai Waits explained how biometrics (fingerprint mapping) were first used to hold men to their words since signatures were not very binding collateral. Once a scientist discovered that fingerprints provide accurate visual markers of identity, fingerprints were used to track diverse and unfamiliar native populations. Fingerprints then became linked to criminality. And, yet, here we are today with fingerprint scanners on our phones. Mira expressed the importance of understanding the history of biometrics and “remembering how visual markers of our body have come to control us.”

Matt Cieslak is using new neuroimaging technology to examine deep inside the white matter in the brain. He developed an algorithm that searches thousands of images of the brain to find missing structures in specific groups of individuals (e.g., adults who stutter). His research has important implications for research on brain injuries (e.g., concussions) and diseases.

After much deliberation, the judges selected the following five students to advance to the Grad Slam Final Round on Friday, April 18, at 3 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion:

James Allen

Aubrie Adams

Michael Zakrewsky

Matt Cieslak

Don Daniels


Graphic created by Torrey Trust

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