Last Wednesday night, Kiara Bruggeman, a PhD student in the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Sciences, took out first prize in the ANU Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition at Llewellyn Hall. With a fascinating presentation titled ‘This is your brain on drugs’, Kiara won a $5000 research support grant.

Bruggeman is no newcomer to the competition, having previously competed in the competition in 2014, winning 1st place and the People’s Choice Award in her college. Her research aims to help rebuild damaged parts of the brain, by using innovative biomaterials such as protein nanofibers as a drug delivery system. This method she says, has extended the window of time that the drugs can affect the brain, from “1 hour to 6 weeks”.

The 3MT competition has simple rules. Although a thesis project typically is 80,000 words long, the contestants must each present their research in under three minutes, with the help of only a single slide or other visual aid. Originally developed at the University of Queensland, the competition is designed to be the ultimate test of how well the contestants understand and can present their own work in an engaging and clear manner.

And it’s easy to see why Bruggeman has been so successful in these rapid presentation style competitions. Upon entering the stage, her brightly dyed multicolored hair immediately won her the intrigue of the audience. Her presentation was dynamic – she jumped energetically from one spot to another, painting a picture of how her research might one day help stroke patients recover.
After the 12 different students gave their presentations, a panel of 5 judges, amongst whom sat Labor politician Andrew Leigh and ABC Radio Presenter Genevieve Jacobs, had 15 minutes to choose a winner.

Competition organiser Professor Jenny Corbett told Woroni that Bruggeman was selected because she “ticked all the boxes, and for her stage presence”.

Bruggeman was delighted with the win, dancing around the stage as she received her $5000 cheque. She said the competition was an important way for her to see the bigger picture of her thesis, rather than only worrying about the small details of “not getting the right numbers”.
In 2nd place was Kelsie Long, for her talk on studying past climates by analysing fish bones, and Noushin Nasiri won the People’s Choice Award with a presentation on her research regarding early cancer and disease detection by examining a patient’s breath.

Bruggeman will represent the ANU in the 3 Minute Thesis Grand Final, held at the University of Queensland on the 2nd of October.