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How can embryonic chick hearts be used to model human hearts to help predict (and potentially influence) how human hearts develop? And how can scientists measure the blood flow of a lentil-sized heart at any point in time?

Kirsten Giesbrecht (’20 MS), a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences, tackled these questions and more, in a very relatable way. She received the top prize during UNC-Chapel Hill’s annual 3MT competition, held on October 25 as part of University Research Week.

Often referred to as “the chick heart lady,” Giesbrecht’s impressive research focuses on modeling blood flow throughout embryonic hearts to better understand how normal physical influences vary from atypical conditions that lead to congenital heart diseases in humans.

“As the heart changes its shape, it also changes the way blood flows which updates those physical cues it feels and continues to grow until it develops into a healthy infant heart—or so we hope,” Giesbrecht said during her presentation.

The Graduate School’s annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, an initiative of CareerWell, is an academic competition that assists graduate students with fostering effective presentation and communication skills. Participants have just three minutes to explain the breadth and significance of their (often complex) research project to a non-specialist audience in an easy-to-understand way.

Graduate students from disciplines across campus, including science and the humanities, presented their remarkable research to a panel of judges. The top 10 participants who presented in a creative and/or approachable way advanced to the finals to compete for placement and prizes.

2023 3MT Finalists 

  • Rosa Cuppari, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
  • Sarah Parker, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • Emma Crawford, Mathematics
  • Kirsten Giesbrecht, Mathematics
  • Marielle Bond, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Eileen Hammond, Communication
  • Jessica Garcia, Chemistry
  • Samantha Clouthier, Chemistry
  • Rebecca Radomsky, Chemistry
  • Yoojeong Shin, Business

This year’s standing-room-only competition was one of over 900 similar competitions held at universities in 85 countries around the world. 3MT was developed by The University of Queensland in 2008.

First place receives $1,000 and the opportunity to represent Carolina in a regional competition. Second place receives $600, and the People’s Choice receives $400. The awards are graciously funded by Mr. Donald Curtis (ABJM ’63), longtime Carolina supporter and Chairman and CEO of Curtis Media Group.

2023 3MT Winners 

A group of three people pose for a photo while holding awards

The Graduate School’s Dean Beth Mayer-Davis said 3MT is a true celebration of graduate student achievement and allows graduate students to foster effective presentation and communication skills.

“Clear and concise communication in the professional world has never been more vital than it is today. Each of our contestants has produced outstanding research and has done what must have seemed unthinkable to them a month ago: taking the knowledge they’ve created in their graduate education and describing it in only three minutes to a discerning panel of judges,” Mayer-Davis said.

Impressed by the caliber of research and creative presentations, the esteemed panel of judges (including some Carolina alumni) provided helpful feedback to the students. Many thanks to our judges.

2023 3MT Final Judges 

  • Dr. Yele Aluko
    Chief Medical Officer
    EY Americas
  • Deborah Boles (BSCH ’97, PhD ’02)
    Vice President, Research and Development
  • Paul Hunton
    President and General Manager
    North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC
  • Paige Ouimet
    Executive Director for the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, Associate Dean of the Ph.D. Program, Professor of Finance
    UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • John Poulton (PhD ’80)
    Senior Scientist

Watch the videos from our winners. At less than three minutes each, you won’t regret it. 

First-place winner: Kirsten Giesbrecht, Mathematics

Second-place winner: Rebecca Radomsky, Chemistry

People’s Choice winner: Marielle Bond, Genetics and Molecular Biology

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