Eight Western Engineering graduate students head to 3MT Finals


Western Engineering News | April 3, 2018

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition is a series of three-minute talks by Western University graduate students who discuss their exciting research and creative activities. These Master’s and PhD students have been selected for their ability to communicate to the public in an engaging manner.

After six heats, the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies announced its top 20 students across the university who will compete in the Western 3MT Finals on Thursday, April 5, at the Wolf Performance Hall, where one student will be selected to represent Western in a provincial 3MT Competition.

Of these 20 graduate students, eight are from Western Engineering – Taryn Fournie (CEE), Salma Dammak (BME), Hilary Stone (BME), Leah Groves (BME), Moe Haddara (BME), Ainsley Inglis (CEE), Archana Tamang (CEE) and Clair Vanelli (BME).

Taryn Fournie, who received first place in the Engineering heat for her 3MT presentation, looks at utilizing smouldering combustion as a method of treating biosolids from Wastewater Treatment Plants. Fournie’s research is important not only as a more sustainable waste management strategy, but the recovery of nutrients from post-treatment ash is essential for creating nutrient rich fertilizers to meet current and future food demands. 

Fournie’s interest in her research area stems from an internship she did during the summer of 2016 in Ghana.

“Through CEE’s international development program, I had the opportunity to work for a waste management company in Ghana,” said Fournie. “This experience opened my eyes to some of the waste management issues that are facing the world today and sparked my passion in this area.”

When asked about her overall 3MT experience so far, Fournie said she was very surprised to find out she won the Engineering 3MT competition.

“The quality of all the presentations were very high, and I felt like many of the presenters deserved to win. 3MT has helped me to answer more effectively when my family and friends ask me about my research – Now I can explain it to them in under three minutes!”

Second place recipient, Salma Dammak, works on a computer program that determines response to treatment with stereotactic ablative radiotherapy for patients diagnosed with stage I, non-small-cell lung cancer at less than six months after treatment. With the current tools, doctors cannot determine whether the treatment worked for over a year after it’s delivered because the follow-up scans for both patients with successful and failed treatments have patterns that look similar.

“If this computer program is successful, it will be able to aid doctors in recognizing failed treatment early,” said Dammak. “So, they can intervene with other methods before the remaining cancer grows and metastasizes past being curable.”

Dammak’s research hits really close to home, as her grandmother passed away from colon cancer, with a lesion that was falsely detected as a benign cyst about a year before the diagnosis was corrected to being cancerous.

“I hope that my work will one day help both patients and their doctors catch cancer before it’s too late,” said Dammak.

Coming in third place for the 3MT Engineering heat, Hilary Stone presented her research on biomaterial synthesis for soft tissue engineering.  Stone works on making polymeric, fibrous scaffolds that can temporarily support cells until they recreate their own native extracellular matrix, at which point the scaffold degrades, leaving behind a new 3D piece of tissue. This tissue could then be used to test different drugs before they are tested in animal models or in human clinical trials. 

“I find biomaterials research really interesting because I work with synthetic materials that work to mimic the native tissue structures in the body,” said Stone. “I like being able to use my chemical engineering undergraduate education to work on biomedical engineering problems.”

Western Engineering is proud of the research its students are conducting and wishes all of the finalists good luck as they prepare for the Finals and continue to work towards making a societal impact through their creative research.

For more information on the 3MT Finals taking place Thursday, April 5, at the Wolf Performance Hall at 7:00 p.m., visit here.