2017 Three Minute Thesis Competition

Graham Hammill, 3MT winners and Charles Zukoski.

In spring 2017, the Graduate School and Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars hosted the university's inaugural Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

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Winners and Finalists

Meet the 15 exemplary doctoral students that were selected as finalists to present their three minute thesis at UB's first annual 3MT competition.

Philip Schneider.

Philip Schneider

First Place Winner

Presentation Title: Test Phantom Fingers for Higher Biometric Security

PhD Program: Electrical Engineering

Advisor: Kwang Oh

Biography: Philip Schneider, co-founder, president and chief technology officer of La Salle Concepts, is currently pursuing his PhD in electrical engineering at the University at Buffalo. As a member of the University's Sensor and Micro-actuators Learning Lab, his current research includes the development of new health care related wearable technologies for point of care applications, the use of biometric technologies in the mobile consumer market and the creation of state-of-the-art test phantoms for medical sensor testing and validation.

Schneider has a true passion for bringing STEM to the local community. He is the founder of Project FIS, an ongoing effort to inspire and motivate underrepresented students in the field of STEM through hands on, high energy, interactive science experiments. In addition, he mentors a FIRST Robotics team at Saint Joseph's Collegiate Institute and is part of the Westminster Charter School initiative, where he teaches science classes to Kindergarden through second graders. He aspires to be a successful business owner bridging his backgrounds in science and technology with his business acumen to directly contribute to the economic resurgence in the Western New York region.

Danielle Twum.

Danielle Twum

Second Place Winner

Presentation Title: Switch cancer off!

Major: Microbiology and Immunology (Roswell Park)

Advisor: Scott Abrams

Biography: Danielle Twum, originally from Ghana, West Africa, is currently a graduate student studying the immune response in cancer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Danielle received her Bachelor of Arts in biology from Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, where she studied the effect of climate change on corals. After her she completes her PhD, Danielle is hoping to bring science to the general public by coming up with more exciting ways to explain complex scientific concepts in order to demystify the mysteries that surround science and make it more approachable to the layperson.

Mohammad Hossein Ansari.

Mohammad Hossein Ansari

Third Place Winner

Presentation Title: Pacemaker Energy Harvester

PhD Program: Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: M. Amin Karami

Biography: Mohammad Hossein ("Hooman") Ansari, originally from Iran, is a PhD candidate in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, with research interests in vibration and energy harvesting. He earned his master's degree from UB in 2017 and is expected to graduate from the PhD program in June, 2018. He has worked on shoe energy harvesters and pacemaker energy harvesters as part of his research, where he has two patents. He is currently working on finishing his PhD and increasing his publications. He plans to start his own company in the future.

Saeede Eftekhari.

Saeede Eftekhari

People's Choice Winner

Presentation Title: Less Pain, Lower Cost by Health Information Sharing

PhD Program: Management Science and Systems

Advisor: Ramaswamy Ramesh

Biography: Saeede Eftekhari is a PhD candidate in UB's Management Science and Systems program. She has particular interests in health care analytics and the economics of health information technologies. Her dissertation is focused on examining the impact of the health information technologies implemented in the U.S. health care system on the quality and cost of medical care. She earned a master's degree and a BSc in industrial engineering from Isfahan University of Technology, Iran. In addition to research, she enjoys teaching.

Mohammad Atif Afzal.

Mohammad Atif Afzal


Presentation Title: Accelerated Discovery of High-performance Materials

PhD Program: Chemical and Biological Engineering

Advisor: Johannes Hachmann

Biography: Mohammad Atif Afzal is a PhD student in the department of chemical and biological engineering. Atif's interests lie in the design of new molecular materials with exceptional properties. His goal is to develop innovative new materials that will outperform the ones used in current optical and electronic devices.

At UB, he founded the Computational Sciences Club, which serves as a platform to bring together students who perform computational research, to share their research perspectives, organize seminars/workshops and promote collaboration. Atif's plan after graduation is to pursue a career which will allow him to contribute to scientific endeavors that will transform society.

Peter Bloomingdale.

Peter Bloomingdale


Presentation Title: Networks, Nerves and Cures

PhD Program: Pharmaceutical Sciences

Advisor: Donald Mager

Biography: Peter Bloomingdale grew up locally in, Lockport, NY. He is a fifth year PhD student in the pharmaceutical sciences graduate program, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 2012. He is currently the pharmaceutical sciences GSA treasurer and also served as SBI (Subboard 1, inc.) treasurer for the 2015-2016 academic year. His dissertation involves systems pharmacology network-based approaches to discover novel drug combinations for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. After his time at UB, Bloomingdale aspires to become a professor in the field of systems pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences.

Antonella Di Giulio.

Antonella Di Giulio


Presentation Title: Fountain of Youth for Brains: A Map of Sounds

PhD Program: Historical Musicology and Music Theory

Advisor: Brian Moseley

Biography: Antonella Di Giulio, a pianist, music theorist and pedagogue, is currently working toward her PhD degree at UB, in historical musicology and music theory. She earned a master's degree in piano performance from UB, as well as post-diploma certifications in performance and didactic and a diploma in piano, from Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome, Italy. In addition, she is lecturer at Buffalo State College. Her research has been presented in several national and international conferences.

Lucie Kafková.

Lucie Kafková


Presentation Title: Figuring out African Trypanosomes One Protein at a Time

PhD Program: Microbiology and Immunology

Advisor: Laurie Read

Biography: Born in Prague, Czech Republic, Lucie Kafková has been studying African trypanosomes since the beginning of her undergraduate career. She completed her master's studies at the University of South Bohemia with a degree in experimental biology. She then switched her focus from RNA editing to arginine methylation when she joined Professor Read's group at the University at Buffalo, where she is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in microbiology and immunology. As an American Heart pre-doctoral fellow, Lucie has worked on deepening our understanding of trypanosome protein arginine methyltransferase I function. She is planning to stay in academia and hopes to one day run her own laboratory.

Holly Keily.

Holly Keily


Presentation Title: Gesturing to make a point: Who is that gesture for?

PhD Program: Linguistics

Advisor: Juergen Bohnemeyer

Biography: Holly Keily, originally from Colorado, has lived and worked in several cities around the world, including: Denver, Colorado; Avignon, France; Frewsburg, New York; Kailua, Hawaii; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and now Buffalo. She graduated from the University of Denver in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in business administration and a Bachelor of Arts in French. She is also a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute.

In 2012, Keily joined UB's Department of Linguistics, where her research is on the origin and function of co-speech gesture. She was on the Tonal Aspects of Languages program committee hosted by UB last spring and helped edit and publish the conference proceedings. She's a graduate assistant for Accessibility Resources and a research assistant in the department of linguistics. She has also been a teaching assistant in linguistics and has taught several classes.

Gokhan Kul.

Gokhan Kul


Presentation Title: "Et tu, Brute?": Detecting Insider Attacks to Databases

PhD Program: Computer Science and Engineering

Advisor: Shambhu Upadhyaya and Oliver Kennedy

Biography: Gokhan Kul, originally from Ankara, Turkey, is currently a PhD student in the computer science and engineering program at UB. He received his undergraduate degree from TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara and received his master's degree from Middle East Technical University, Ankara, where he studied computer engineering. His graduate research focuses on database systems security.

Kul currently works as a research assistant in OdinLab where he is developing a system to detect insider attacks via monitoring database user behavior. In addition to research, he sometimes writes and publishes critiques on fiction novels and plays guitar. After graduation, Kul aspires to remain in academia and further his research on database security.

Kristin Maki.

Kristin Maki


Presentation Title: Is a story worth 1,000 numbers?

PhD Program: Communication

Advisor: Thomas Feeley

Biography: Kristin Maki, originally from Ithaca, NY, is a fourth-year PhD student in the communication department. Her dissertation compares three message format's effectiveness in conveying health-related information. She is currently conducting her dissertation research and plans to finish her degree in 2018. Having also studied social support's role in health-related outcomes, Kristin is looking forward to researching the potential impact of patient's stories relating to treatment outcomes after she finishes her dissertation.

Van Anh Nguyen.

Van Anh Nguyen


Presentation Title: Clipping Wires Inside A Biological Bomb - Targeting Cancer's Weak Links

PhD Program: Pharmaceutical Sciences

Advisor: Donald Mager

Biography: Van Anh ("Vika") Nguyen, born and raised in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, graduated summa cum laude from UB with a Bachelor of Science in pharmaceutical sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Her extensive training in mathematics, biochemistry and computer programming determined her career path as she was looking for an interdisciplinary field that would combine all of her interests,and found that pharmaceutical sciences was the right fit. She is now in the third year of her PhD program and her research focuses on utilizing mathematical approaches to find better treatment options for hematological malignancies. Outside of academics, she has been actively involved in student organizations and on-campus activities, and she enjoys dancing on stage.

Xiaonan Tai.

Xiaonan Tai


Presentation Title: Where do trees die?

PhD Program: Geography

Advisor: D. Scott Mackay

Biography: Xiaonan Tai is a PhD candidate in the geography program. Tai received her Bachelor of Science in geospatial science from Wuhan University. She is a 2011-2015 Presidential Fellow and she specializes in spatial science and numerical modeling. Her thesis work focuses on building mechanistic models that predict how forests respond to novel climate conditions. During the summer of 2017, she will travel to Laramie, Wyoming to collect field observations of soils and trees, which she will use to drive and evaluate the model she has developed.

Nadav Weinstock.

Nadav Weinstock


Presentation Title: Understanding Krabbe Disease

Major: Biomedical Sciences

Advisor: M. Laura Feltri

Biography: Nadav Weinstock, originally from Israel but raised in Buffalo, NY, is a fifth year MD/PhD student in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He aspires to become a physician-scientist, working on developing therapies for rare diseases that affect babies.

During his first two years of medical school, Weinstock became interested in global health and spent time providing medical care at local free health clinics and to under-served remote populations in the Himalayan Mountains of India. In 2016, he was awarded an F30 fellowship from the NIH for his research on Krabbe Disease.

Chong Zhang.

Chong Zhang


Presentation Title: An Enzyme to Remember With No Strings Attached

Major: Biomedical Sciences

Advisor: James M. O'Donnell

Biography: Chong Zhang is originally from China and is currently a PhD student in the department of pharmacology and toxicology. Over the past few years, she has been interested in elucidating the relationship between the neurochemical and behavioral effects of drugs that are used in neuropsychiatric diseases, such as depression, anxiety and learning and memory disabilities. In addition to her main topic of research, she is also highly interested in finding potential therapeutic values in natural compounds, such as resveratrol from a glass of red wine. She is devoted to the discovery of safer and more effective drugs for this and future generations.

The Judging Panel

The competition could not have been successful without our esteemed panel of judges who volunteered to participate.

Maritza Baez.

Maritza Baez

I'm from Buffalo NY. Community has always been important to me. I'm especially thankful to the Buffalo Prep community, of which I have been a part for over 25 years, first as a student, then as an advocate. It was through Buffalo Prep that I realized my dream of becoming a family physician. First, I was awarded a full scholarship to the Nichols School, then went on to graduate from Yale University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in three years instead of four and finally earned a full scholarship for my medical degree from the University at Buffalo, which I earned in 2004.

For over 25 years, I have been giving back to my community. Among other activities, I have volunteered for the City of Buffalo Youth Engaged in Service, given inspirational talks and mentorship to students on the elementary, high school, college and graduate school levels, and served on various community-wide boards. I currently serve on the Board of Trustees at the Enterprise Charter School, where I am also Board Secretary.

For the past 10 years I have been working full-time as a family physician at Lifetime Health Medical Group. I work in an inner-city urban office where my bilingual (spanish) skills are used daily. I manage complex chronic medical conditions for over 4,000 families a year and managed over 10,000 lives for over six months during a provider shortage. I consistently have exceptional productivity, quality and patient satisfaction measures. I have incorporated a bilingual certified diabetic educator, helped bring translator phones to our office and helped acquire accessible examination tables.

I am always coming up with improvements that become incorporated site-wide and company-wide. In 2016 I contributed to some major company-wide improvements. One was rewording the Mammogram Order Requisition to ensure that patients understood exactly what it was for. The wording changed from "Screening for Malignant Neoplasm of Breast" to "Screening Mammogram." Another enhancement I initiated was to include flexible sigmoidoscopy on the Patient Care Card as a valid colon cancer screening measure. From 2015 to 2016 my overall clinical quality score increased by 13.1%. My diabetics with a HbA1C < 9 increased by 7.01%, and for HbA1C < 8 improved by 9.38%.

I have been featured in the Buffalo Criterion, Black Western New York Magazine, Jacobs School of Medicine Momentum newsletter, Pangea Organics Catalog, Buffalo Magazine, Buffalo Spree, Western New York Health Magazine, healthtap.com, Channel 2 Buffalo, Time Warner Cable News, Channel 4 Buffalo, WNLO-TV, CAO radio, WBEN radio and others.

Elizabeth Licata.

Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata is the editor of Buffalo Spree and has been a journalist for 30 years. Her art criticism has been published in the Village Voice, the Buffalo News, Art in America, Art News and many other publications. Since becoming editor of Spree in 1999, Licata has overseen a complete makeover of the magazine, which is now an award-winning city/regional publication.

Licata was curator at the Castellani Art Museum from 1991-1999, where she organized several nationally touring exhibitions and co-edited two books: In Company: Robert Creeley’s Collaborations and Consider the Alternatives: Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

Licata’s board service includes Squeaky Wheel, Hallwalls, the Allentown Association and the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. She has received awards from Young Audiences of WNY, Preservation Buffalo Niagara and other organizations.

Michael Murphy.

Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy joined Shea’s Performing Arts Center as President in October of 2016. He previously served as managing director of the Tony-Award winning Old Globe Theatre in San Diego from 2011 and as its general manager beginning in 2003. Prior to the Globe Theatre, he was the managing director of Austin Lyric Opera in Austin, Texas; Director of administration of San Diego Opera; and general manager of San Diego Repertory Theatre. Before relocating to San Diego from New York City, he held similar positions at Theatre for a New Audience and the Joyce Theater Foundation’s American Theater Exchange. He also served as negotiating assistant for the League of Resident Theatres and sales representative for Columbia Artists Theatricals Corporation.

Murphy serves on the Board of Directors of the Theatre District Association of Western New York and the National Alliance of Musical Theatre. He has also served on the Board of Directors of National Corporate Theatre Fund, the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership and as a management trustee for San Diego County Theatrical Trusts, the pension and welfare trust for IATSE stagehands in the San Diego region. He was also an adjunct faculty member of the Music Department at the University of San Diego.

Murphy earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in stage management from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri and his Master of Fine Arts in performing arts management from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

Samuel Savarino.

Samuel Savarino

Samuel Savarino is the owner and chief executive officer of Savarino Companies. Since it was formed in January of 2001, Savarino Companies has grown to be one of Western New York's leading general contracting, construction management, property management and development firms. Savarino Companies has built many notable structures throughout Western New York including UB Economic Opportunity Center, new academic building and sports facilities for D’Youville College and several YMCA branch facilities.

Savarino Companies has led the development of several notable Western New York projects including several restored buildings in Buffalo’s historic Cobblestone District, Academy Place in Gowanda, 500 Seneca, White’s Livery Apartments and Buffalo River Landing.

Prior to forming Savarino Companies, Savarino served as chief executive officer at ADF Construction Corporation of Amherst, New York. Under his leadership, ADF grew from a small, family-owned construction firm to a large and respected full-service construction company that successfully completed many landmark projects throughout Western New York.

Savarino is also the primary owner and Managing Member of TSC Construction, a telecommunication infrastructure builder headquartered in Binghamton, New York.

Savarino received a Bachelor of Arts from the University at Buffalo. He is a graduate of the Leadership Buffalo Class of 1995. He is active in many industry related organizations, and is certified by the Construction Specifications Institute as both a Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) and a Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA).

James Wehrfritz.

James Wehrfritz

James Wehrfritz began his international energy industry consulting firm Erie-Niagara Consulting, LLC in 2014 after an illustrious career with Exxon Corporation, beginning in 1978, and then Exxon-Mobil Corporation after the merger. At Exxon, he held management and professional positions, involving upstream (production), midstream (transportation) and downstream (refining) organizations, along with business development, planning, engineering, construction, marketing and operations. Jim provided interdisciplinary team leadership of discipline and environmental engineers, planning, contracting/purchasing, legal, public affairs, construction and operations staff.

His assignments have included work from domestic locations in Texas, Louisiana, California and New Jersey, and international projects as an expatriate (with family) in Russia and Indonesia, along with assignments across the globe in Canada, Venezuela, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Chad, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Angola, Turkey, Jordan, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Iraq.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering (Water Resources concentration) from the State University of New York at Buffalo (1974-78) and has completed graduate work at the University of Houston (1981-86), MBA courses in accounting, finance and management, in addition to engineering graduate courses on  turbo machinery and thermodynamics.

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