Second Annual Three Minute Thesis Competition

Three competition winners holding large checks.

On Friday, March 9, 2018, PhD research came to life in the university's second annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Winners Finalists Judges Emcee Event Photos

Competition Winners

First Place: Philip Odonker

Philip Odonker headshot.

Philip Odonker's 3MT Video Transcript

[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Uh, next up I'd like to welcome to the stage Phillip Odonkor. His presentation title is “Is your house smarter than a mud hut?” His department is mechanical and aerospace engineering. He has also studied and lived in South Africa and Britain. His future career plans include pursuing academic research in the field of energy optimization. Welcome to the stage Phillip, and ready, set, pitch!

[Speaker Philip Odonkor] Everyone here lives in a building. And if I had to guess, when it comes to structural stability basic amenities and watching Netflix, your home is light-years ahead of this one. Yet when it comes to intelligence—you know, the ability to make sense of the world around them and the people living within—turns out you might as well be living in this, because just like this hut, your home and millions of homes across America, cannot think for themselves or at least they haven't ever before. But what if they could?

Imagine your bedroom waking you up at just the right time in your sleep cycle. As you crawl out of bed the lights automatically adjust to complement the natural light coming in. Around your home, sensors monitor your vital signs, proactively adjusting to the indoor temperature and air quality to suit your needs while shutting down appliances and services not in use to conserve energy. This is but a snapshot of the intelligent home experiences I built and how I get there is the really cool part.

You see, every time you turn on the lights, or use a microwave in your home, your actions leave a unique energy signature. These signatures contain tiny fragments of your most innate energy habits. And given the right focus, they can tell me surprisingly a lot about you. Like your favorite temperature preferences, your laundry routine, even your cooking habits, or in my case the lack thereof. [Audience laughs] And I learned all this using something known as cognitive computing. It's a capability which allows me to take your home's data and have it processed and understood. It's about finding trends and patterns and correlations within your data and using that to build assistive technologies which are able to predict and address your home needs before you even realize them.

To my mom this all sounds really creepy [audience laughs] and rightfully so. But before you join her in raising your pitchforks, you need to understand that, fundamentally, this is no different to, say, Netflix monitoring your viewing habits to make movie recommendations. They're both about personalizing your experiences, and for that we need a personal look into your private life. But to be clear, this is not about adding a few smart plugs to your home or even having Alexa order you flowers. That's indeed part of it. But at its core, it's about automating the most mundane parts of your home using your own energy habits; not some pre-programmed software designed by engineers who don't know you or understand how you like to use your home. This is the home experience truly re-imagined; freeing up time for you to enjoy the most rewarding parts of actually living in your home.

The smart home is not yet here. But through research like mine we're taking huge strides towards finally helping homes in America, from Kevin's to yours, to be truly smart. Thank You. [Audience cheers and claps.]

[Speaker: Graham Hammill] The first place award goes to Philip Odonkor.

[Audience cheers and claps.]

PhD Program: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Advisor: Kemper Lewis

Biography: Originally from Ghana, Philip Odonkor is pursuing his PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He also holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees from UB. Odonkor's research focuses on realizing the promise of net-zero energy smart buildings through the use of optimal control strategies. He aspires to develop energy management algorithms to discover our most innate energy habits and to use this data to better manage energy assets within our homes and offices. Odonkor's favorite activities are playing football, soccer and racquetball. After graduation, he plans to become an academic researcher in the field of energy optimization. 

Second Place: Nalia Sahar

Nalia Sahar headshot.

Nalia Sahar's 3MT Video Transcript

[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] I will ask Naila to join me on stage. Naila is originally from Pakistan. In fact, attended the Government College University in Lahore, Pakistan. Future career plans including teaching and journalism. She is from the English department and her presentation is—or is titled—“Who is a Muslim Woman?” Naila Sahar, ready, set, pitch!

[Speaker: Naila Sahar] So after coming to U.S. for my PhD, I was constantly asked if being a Pakistani Muslim woman, if I was allowed to go to school back in my country or not. And that would make me think about all the strong, well-educated women that I had seen around myself in Pakistan. So, I decided to research Muslim women, so to discover, who is the real Muslim woman.

Is she that hijab-clad woman from Afghanistan that you see on the Fox News? Or she's that daring, bold, American activist, Linda Sarsour? Is she Malala Yousafszai from Pakistan, who was shot by Taliban? Or is she Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy from Pakistan, that fashionable liberated woman who won an Oscar twice for her documentaries?

The dilemma that Muslim women face is that either they are silenced by the law and culture in the Muslim countries or when they dare speak, their narrative is distorted by the main-stream, western media. Take for instance, the example of Malalai Joya, the Afghan parliamentarian who once spoke against Islamic fundamentalism and the U.S. intervention in her country. She was banished from Afghan parliament for being too daring. Where Malala Yousafzai is seen as a global symbol of woman empowerment in education, in her own country, she is seen as a naive pawn, who is supporting the western agenda of aligning the reputation of Muslim countries as regressive and oppressive.

Moreover, there are several American Muslim woman activists who are struggling very hard for the inter-religious harmony in the U.S. Yet, they're seen with suspicion by the Muslim community for not being Muslim enough, and by the rest of the Americans for not being American enough. Thus, whether it's home or abroad, Muslim women are constantly misinterpreted and misrepresented. Yet, they resist and persist.

Reading into the lives of these Muslim women, I'm finding those instances of intervention, where these Muslim women challenged the stereotypes about themselves, either in script or in action. This includes those Muslim women who are using mosques as the sites of empowerment, and those who are rejecting the patriarchal interpretations of Quran, and are rereading Quran with the feminist perspectives, so to instill a gender-inclusive approach in the Islamic thought.

The aim of my research is to let the world know that Muslim women can not be woven into a single definition of being "oppressed". Since there are many of them who are struggling very hard to be the agents of their own lives. Researching these Muslim women of substance has not only defined my sense of identity, it has given me the courage to keep on struggling for my rights, no matter wherever I am. I feel now, more than ever, Muslim women do not need saving, they need to be heard. Thank you.

[Audience applauds.]

[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Thank you Naila, and great job.

PhD Program: English

Advisor: Carine Mardorossian

Biography: Naila Sahar is a Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan who is pursuing her PhD in English. Her research focuses on overcoming barriers that deter Muslim women from voicing their concerns and challenging stereotypes either in script or action. Sahar aspires to change misconceptions about Muslim women in the United States by telling their life stories. She is a member of the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA). Sahar enjoys watching Netflix and catching up on sleep whenever possible. After graduation, she plans to teach journalism.

Third Place and People's Choice Winner: Camila Rosat Consiglio

Camila Rosat Costiglio headshot.

Camila Rosat Consiglio's 3MT Video Transcript

[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Next up I'll ask Camila to join me on stage. Her presentation title will be “Immunity: A Battle of the Sexes.” Her department is Immunology. Her future career plans including—her career plan it says—is to become an investigator and focus her research in the field of immunology, combining wet lab techniques with bioinformatics. Her hometown—her home country—is Brazil. We welcome you Camila Rosat Consiglio. Ready, set, pitch!

[Speaker: Camila Rosat Consiglio] What if I told you women fight better than men. I'm talking about how men and women have differences in immune responses and these differences can affect the development of diseases, such as cancer, infections and auto-immunity. But first, let me tell you how the immune system works.

A healthy immune system is strong enough to fight infections and prevent the development of cancer, but not so strong that it can attack the body. Now imagine that immune responses can be seen as a thermostat. If we turn it all the way down, immune responses would be weak, and people would be more susceptible to infections and cancer. If we turn it all the way up, to strong immune responses, then infections wouldn't be much of a problem, but auto-immunity could occur, where the immune system attacks and damages the body.

Men are thought to be the strong sex, but when it comes to immune responses, men actually fall within this range of having weaker immune responses and develop more cancer and more infections than women. And women fall within the range of having too strong an immune response and they have—and develop—more auto-immunity, like lupus. So we think that the hand that can turn up and down the immune response thermostat are sex hormones, which are found at different levels in men and women.

One such hormone is testosterone, and it's highly produced in men, and less so in women. It's that hormone that makes boys go through voice changes in adolescence. But then why would testosterone—or how would testosterone also be influencing immune responses? That's what I'm trying to figure out in my PhD. I'm doing this by analyzing white blood cells which are the fighter cells for the immune system that ensure proper immune responses against cancer and germs. And if you think about it, to ensure proper immune responses these white blood cells have to be produced quickly and they should be able to fight well.

We found that white blood cells that can respond to testosterone, like men do, are produced slowly. However, when we block the ability of these white blood cells to respond to testosterone, they start being produced more quickly. The more quickly they're produced, the sooner they can induce immune responses against cancer and infections. So, this could be one of the reasons why men have weaker immune responses than women.

So, by identifying how sex hormones regulate the immune responses we can use this knowledge to fine-tune the immune response thermostat. So, if someone has auto-immunity we can use testosterone to decrease the production of white blood cells and reduce unwanted immune responses. But if someone is fighting cancer or someone is fighting an infection, then it would be good to block testosterone action and increase the production of white blood cells, to boost immune responses. So, when it comes to infections and cancer, I would say, fight like a girl! Thank you.

[Audience cheers and applauds.]

[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Thank You Camila. I mentioned previously I have a bachelor's degree and I have additional schooling to get a meteorology certification. I could walk around most of the time being one of the smartest people in the room. This is not one of these occasions. [Audience laughs.] It's a bit intimidating being in the presence of all of you and particularly the presenters as well.

PhD Program: Immunology, Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Advisor: Sandra Gollnick

Biography: Camila Rosat Consiglio, originally from Brazil, is a PhD candidate in the Department of Immunology, Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Her research explores why men and women differ in immune responses and how sex hormones regulate the immune system. Her goal is to use the knowledge gained from her research to develop therapies that will enhance immunity to fight infections and diseases. In addition to her research activities, Rosat Consiglio loves to hike and attend concerts. Her future career plan is to become an investigator in the field of immunology.