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Showcasing Idaho’s Student-Driven Research

Graduate Students present their research in three minutes

Ezekiel Adekanmbi keeps a large tub of water under his desk. When he feels himself dozing off during a long research session, he’ll stick his feet in it to stay awake. Loud classical music and regularly timed alarms also help during late-night lab sessions.

Putting in the necessary time and effort in the pursuit of knowledge has been a way of life for the University of Idaho College of Engineering doctoral candidate, who took a detour on his chemical engineering studies to apply his knowledge to do research on some hard-to-identify diseases.

“I had studied in a city with about 20 million people, and knowing that I would be coming to Moscow, a town of about 25,000 people, was a relief,” Adekanmbi said. “I was super excited about studying at U of I. The opportunity had come to do something health-related, which is important to saving the world.”

Adekanmbi’s work paid off as the winner of the inaugural statewide Three-Minute Thesis/Three-Minute Masters Competition (3MT/3MM) competition where graduate students presented what they’re doing to make the world a better place.

His research involved finding unique identifiers in infected cells that cause some of the most microscopically indiscernible diseases, babesiosis, which is often misidentified as malaria, and borreliosis, also known as Lyme disease. His method of identification used the electrical properties of cells to differentiate them.

“It’s like finding the difference between the number 5 and 5.001,” he said, “It’s that small.”

Fifteen graduate students from the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University met at the inaugural statewide 3MT/3MM in Boise to present their research and its impact in the state. Their main challenge was to be the best student in Idaho to distill an 80,000-word thesis into a three-minute presentation. Another U of I student, Allison Stevens, took second place, while Idaho State University’s Jessica Whitaker-Fornek and Staci Phelan won third place and People's Choice, respectively.

Hosted by U of I, the event is the first statewide competition of its kind in Idaho, and one of the events University of Idaho Boise supports across the Treasure Valley through its community engagement initiatives. The force behind the event is U of I College of Graduate Studies (COGS) Dean Jerry McMurtry.

“Research and technological innovation are becoming more important to our society as we create new and novel approaches to answer important scientific questions,” McMurtry said. “Today, graduates need to be able to explain the work they are doing and how the new discoveries impact our people, our state and our world.”

Ezekiel Adekanmbi
Ezekiel Adekanmbi

Showcasing Research from all Idaho Institutions

The 3MT competition is designed to cultivate graduate students’ academic, presentation and research communication skills. Presenting in a 3MT competition increases students’ capacity to effectively explain their research to a lay audience. With the 3MT/3MM, McMurtry was able to create an event that showcased the students’ research and its impact to the community, policymakers, entrepreneurs and future students.

“All institutions in Idaho have good graduate programs that are important to the state and, while each school is running an internal 3MT competition, I believed it was important to create this statewide event and showcase all Idaho students together,” he said.

Bringing the 3MT/3MM event to Boise made sense to McMurtry; a Boise event made travel easier for students across the state and there are more people, policy makers and businesses in Boise. McMurtry met with Mike Satz, executive officer at U of I Boise, to explore the idea. Satz and his staff offered resources and support to make the event a reality.

Today, graduates need to be able to explain the work they are doing and how the new discoveries impact our people, our state and our world. U of I College of Graduate Studies Dean Jerry McMurtry

“By supporting, partnering and collaborating with other U of I departments and units, U of I Boise is increasing ways to help students succeed and share their U of I experiences with others,” Satz said.

McMurtry believes the 3MT/3MM experience paid off for students and the community alike by creating more awareness of research done by students in Idaho. He’s already working with U of I Boise in preparing for next year’s event scheduled for Feb. 19 at JUMP in Boise.

During arrived at the U of I in 2014 and graduated in spring 2019. During his time at the university, he worked on projects involving salmonella, breast cancer and the extraction and recovery of metals. His research was published four times, and he presented at numerous conferences.

Adekanmbi recently accepted a position with the multinational semiconductor manufacturer Intel as a process engineer, and will be working in the company’s Chandler, Arizona, location.

Article by Maria Ortega, University of Idaho Boise

Published December 2019.

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