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Jessica Vélez, a PhD candidate in the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, took first place in the Three-Minute Thesis competition held last week as a part of UT’s Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week.

The competition challenged master’s and doctoral students to present a compelling talk on their thesis or dissertation to an audience unfamiliar with the topic. Students had three minutes to explain their research and could use only one image or slide. Semifinal competitions over the past few months narrowed the field to the 12 finalists who made their presentations Friday.

Watch the presentations.

Vélez’s research is titled “Investigating the Relationship between the Fungus Cenococcum geophilum and the Biofuel Crop Poplar.” Specifically, she is looking at the presence of toxic metals.

Jessica Vélez, a PhD candidate in the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, presents her research in the Three-Minute Thesis competition held last week as a part of UT’s Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week.

The topic was inspired by conversations with her oldest brother, who is a nuclear engineer. The two discussed the remediation of toxic metal contaminants in soils by plants.

“Poplar trees take up toxic metals like cadmium and lead through their roots, which hurts the plant,” said Vélez. “Cenococcum may be able to increase the amount of toxic metal which poplar can tolerate. In areas where these kinds of toxins are in the ground, we can’t safely use the land for food crop systems, but we could look at planting a biofuel crop like poplar instead. Increasing the amount of toxic metal the poplar can tolerate would also increase the use of this land. Over time, harvesting the poplar would also remove portions of those toxins with every harvest, so the land may also be developed in other ways over time.”

Jessica Vélez, a PhD candidate in the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, is congratulated by Graduate School Dean Dixie Thompson at the Three-Minute Thesis competition.
Jessica Vélez, a PhD candidate in the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, is congratulated by Dixie Thompson of the Graduate School at the Three-Minute Thesis competition.

Second place in the 3MT competition went to Amanda Lee, a PhD student in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, for “Evaluating the Role of Single or Dual Concurrent Stressors on Lactating Dairy Cattle.”

Third place went to Sreejata Bandopadhyay, also a PhD student from CASNR, for “Growing Green: Biodegradable Plastic Mulches for Sustainable Agriculture.”

Below is a gallery of images from the 2018 Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week.