Third Annual Three Minute Thesis Competition

Three competition winners holding large checks.

On Friday, March 8, 2019, PhD research came to life in the university's third annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

On this page:

Winners and Finalists

Meet the 12 exemplary doctoral students that were selected as finalists to present their three minute thesis at UB's third annual 3MT competition.

Riddhi Falk-Mahapatra

Riddhi Falk-Mahapatra headshot.

First Place Winner & Peoples Choice Winner

Presentation Title: War Against Cancer: Drop the Knife and Grab a Laser

PhD Program: Cancer Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Advisor: Sandra Gollnick

Biography: Riddhi Falk-Mahapatra is from India and has also lived in England. As a PhD student in Cancer Sciences, Roswell Park Graduate Division, her research ambition is to improve the efficacy of laser-based cancer therapy. Falk-Mahapatra is studying mechanisms by which anti-cancer immunity can be re-activated, and is using laser technology to re-train the immune system to identify and eliminate cancer. Her interests include traveling, playing board games, experimenting with new cuisines, meeting new people and reading. In the future, Falk-Mahapatra plans to work in the field of translational research.

Konstantinos Plakas

Konstantinos Plakas headshot.

Second Place Winner

Presentation Title: Shedding Light on Cancer Detection

PhD Program: Chemistry

Advisor: Michael Detty

Biography: Konstantinos Plakas is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry and a member of the American Chemical Society. He is using synthetic organic chemistry to make molecules for probes that scientists can use to image the body. Plakas’ ambition is to develop more sensitive, less invasive tools for early detection of cancer. Outside of the lab, he enjoys playing ice hockey, cycling and reading. In the future, Plakas plans to obtain a postdoctoral research position to study radiochemistry.

Abdulrahman Hassaballah

Abdulrahman Hassaballah.

Third Place Winner

Presentation Title: How to Swim, Without Dying, In Poop Water

PhD Program: Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Advisor: Lauren Sassoubre

Biography: From Cairo, Egypt, Abdulrahman Hassaballah is a PhD student in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and a member of the New York Water Environment Association. His research focuses on the disinfection of microorganisms at water resource recovery facilities. Hassaballah aspires to develop new wastewater disinfection technologies as eco-friendly alternatives to traditional chlorine based wastewater treatment. Among his interests are skiing, hiking, camping and playing board games. Upon graduation, Hassaballah plans to continue working to protect the environment and water resources.

Aditi Chaubey

Aditi Chaubey headshot.


Presentation Title: Sex Influences Wiring

PhD Program: Biological Sciences

Advisor: Denise Ferkey

Biography: Aditi Chaubey hails from India and is a PhD student in the Department of Biological Sciences. She is studying sex-based differences in pain management. Chaubey is motivated to develop new tools and drugs to understand and cure diseases in a more sex-based, personalized manner. Her hobbies include performing Indian classical dances, volunteering with the Graduate Indian Student Association and playing board games. Chaubey’s future career plans include teaching and science education development.

Zachary Dunbar Headshot.

Zachary Dunbar


Presentation Title: De-Mystifying the Fog: Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems    

PhD Program: Cancer Sciences, Roswell Park Graduate Division  

Advisor: Mark Travers

Biography: Zachary Dunbar is a PhD candidate in Cancer Sciences, Roswell Park Graduate Division. His research focuses on the chemicals emitted by electronic cigarettes, the effect on indoor air quality and non-user health, and social or behavioral traits that contribute to e-cigarette use. Dunbar’s goals are to protect non-smokers, inform e-cigarette users, and advocate for public policy and product regulations based on scientific evidence. Away from the lab, he enjoys playing guitar and restoring his 1958 AMC Rambler American Super. Dunbar’s future career plans include education and research.

Heather Hagenbuch headshot.

Heather Hagenbuch


Presentation Title: Celebrating the First: Learning From Successful First-Generation College Students

PhD Program: Educational Leadership and Policy

Advisor: Raechele Pope

Biography: Heather Hagenbuch is a student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, and is a member of the Association for Equality and Excellence in Education. Her research examines the relationship between high impact practices and baccalaureate degree completion among first-generation college students. Hagenbuch is motivated to learn from high-achieving, first-generation college students to better support incoming generations of students. Hagenbuch enjoys traveling and spending time with her three- year old son. Her future career plans include directing federally funded opportunity programs that promote student access and engagement across cultures.

Ashlee Hart headshot.

Ashlee Hart


Presentation Title: Bulgaria to Buffalo: Bridging Past and Present

PhD Program: Anthropology

Advisor: Peter Biehl

Biography: Ashlee Hart is from Boise, Idaho, and is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on Thracian indigenous ceramics from Iron Age Bulgaria. Hart aspires to present research results to non-specialist audiences to promote greater understanding of cultural differences and the importance of cultural heritage. Among her professional affiliations are the European Archaeology Association, Society of American Archaeology and the Archaeology Institute of America. Hart enjoys traveling, playing sports, and spending time with friends and family. Her future plans include a government archaeology position or a career in academia.

Hamid Khakpour headshot.

Hamid Khakpour


Presentation Title: The Future of Wind Turbines: 3D Printed Blades

PhD Program: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Advisor: John Hall

Biography: Hamid Khakpour, from Tehran, Iran, is a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His research proposes an innovative modular wind turbine blade that is designed to help solve costly wind turbine transportation and maintenance issues. Khakpour is motivated to improve people’s lives through his engineering knowledge in the growing wind industry. He enjoys going to the gym, playing volleyball, fishing and hiking. Khakpour’s future plans include founding a start-up company.

Keeti Pokhriyal.

Neeti Pokhriyal


Presentation Title: Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) Help End Poverty?

PhD Program: Computer Science and Engineering

Advisor: Venu Govindaraju

Biography: Neeti Pokhriyal is a PhD candidate in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Her research focuses on building computational models that assist in improved measurement of poverty. Pokhriyal uses various data sources to accurately estimate poverty values by location. Her goal is for this research to be used to design appropriate interventions to lift poor households out of poverty worldwide. Pokhriyal enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with family and young children. Her future interests include leading multi-disciplinary research that builds scientific knowledge for societal benefits.

Jim Schuler.

Jim Schuler


Presentation Title: Precision Medicine Through Computational Drug Repurposing

PhD Program: Biomedical Informatics

Advisor: Ram Samudrala

Biography: Jim Schuler is a PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and is a member of the American Medical Informatics Association. In his research, Schuler uses models of proteins and compounds to analyze how drugs work, and how seemingly different medicines may be quite similar. His goal is to find new uses for old medicines and reduce the time and cost of drug discovery, and development. Schuler’s interests include running, cycling, camping, Wegmans and D-Link. He aspires to become a pediatric endocrinologist.

Aref Shahini.

Aref Shahini


Presentation Title: The Fountain of Youth From Embryonic Life

PhD Program: Chemical and Biological Engineering

Advisor: Stelios Andreadis

Biography: Aref Shahini hails from Iran and is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. His research explores how genes from the embryonic development stage can be used to reverse age-associated syndromes. Shahini is motivated to combat muscle loss and improve strength among the senior citizen population through gene therapy. Outside of the lab, he enjoys nature, adventure, going to the gym, snowboarding, baking and playing guitar. Shahini is planning a career as a research scientist.

Shiran Zhong.

Shiran Zhong


Presentation Title: Is Flu Following You in Leisure-Time Activities

PhD Program: Geography

Advisor: Ling Bian

Biography: Shiran Zhong is from China and is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography. His research focuses on how human mobility and contact networks impact disease dispersion, identification of critical locations at different phases of an epidemic, and prediction of disease dispersion in space and time. Zhong aspires to help mitigate and better control the dispersion of influenza and other communicable diseases. Among his interests are cooking spicy foods and bel canto singing. Zhong plans a career as a faculty/research scientist.

Celebrity Guest Master of Ceremonies

Paul Peck.

Paul Peck

Paul Peck is a sports broadcaster with more than 30 years of experience in Buffalo TV and radio. He has been the voice of the UB Bulls for 19 seasons, in addition to hosting UB Athletics TV and radio shows. Peck is the co-founder of Buffalo Sports Page, a multimedia sports website, and is also the host of the popular Buffalo bowling TV show “Beat The Champ.”

Previously, Peck served as sports anchor, reporter and producer at WIVB-TV, where he covered all four Buffalo Bills Super Bowls, the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Finals, the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the Daytona 500. Peck also served as the sideline reporter for the Buffalo Bills Football Network and has been the Master of Ceremonies for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

Peck is involved in the local business community as the vice president of sports development at VSP Graphics Group, a full service graphics and design company.

The Judging Panel

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

Mike Anderson.

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson serves as the regional retail administrator for up-and-coming “Bank on Buffalo”—a division of CNB Bank. He has held several retail leadership positions in his 18-year banking career.

Anderson most recently served as a retail area leader for Key Bank. Prior to the Key Bank/First Niagara merger, he served as an area retail leader for four years at First Niagara Bank and three years at HSBC Bank USA, N.A. He began his career at Fleet Bank in 2001.

Anderson was born and raised in South Buffalo. He has lived in Hamburg for the last 14 years with his wife Kelly and daughter Mia. He serves on several community boards, including his roles as president of the University at Buffalo Alumni Association, treasurer for the WNY Perinatal Bereavement Network, and on the Board of Directors for the Amherst Chamber of Commerce.

Anderson received his master’s degree in business administration from UB’s School of Management EMBA program in 2017. He was honored as one of Business First’s “40 Under 40” for rising leaders in the local business community.

Steve Bell.

Steve Bell

For 12 years at Eric Mower + Associates, Steve Bell carved out a go-to public affairs practice dealing with pressing issues like health care, state policy, politics and economic development. He led Mower’s agency-wide crisis and reputation management practice area, which included media, presentation and crisis training. He also served as head of Mower’s 40-person Buffalo office for three years. In September 2018, Bell left the agency to embark on his own crisis and reputation management consultancy, Steve Bell Communications LLC.

Prior to his years at Mower, Bell worked at The Buffalo News for two decades, where he was editorial page editor, managing editor, business editor and city editor.

Bell received his master’s degree in European history from the University of Albany. He currently serves on the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association’s Community Advisory Board, and on the Board of Governors for the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.

Mary Kate O'Connell.

Mary Kate O'Connell

Mary Kate O’Connell is a lifelong resident of Western New York and an award-winning actress. Since 1995, O’Connell has been the executive/artistic director of O’Connell & Company Productions. She is a producer of musicals, revues, cabarets, concerts, plays and special presentations, as well as benefit performances and events for charitable organizations. She also directs theatre classes, workshops and coaching, and children’s theatre camps. O’Connell & Company, in residence at The Park School of Buffalo, marks its 24th anniversary year for original and creative theatrical programming and acting/creative drama classes for children. Mary Kate O’Connell created, writes and directs the popular O’Connell & Company original, DIVA by DIVA: A Celebration of Women! Now in it’s 19th year, DIVA by DIVA: A Celebration of Women! is the longest running revue in Western New York history.

Event Photos

Photographer: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki, University at Buffalo