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Source: University of Canterbury

18 September 2020

A three-minute ‘elevator pitch’ on converting methane waste to bioplastics has taken out the top prize at UC’s Three Minute Thesis competition for Biological Sciences postgraduate student Flynn Adcock.

  • Postgraduate biological sciences student Flynn Adcock’s three-minute ‘elevator pitch’ on converting methane waste to bioplastics has taken out the top prize at UC’s Three Minute Thesis competition, and been awarded highly commended at the National Inter-University Challenge.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is a fast-paced global research communication competition where Master’s and Doctoral students explain their thesis in just three minutes, encouraging students to hone their communication skills, receive international peer review, and present to a wider general audience. Watch this year’s UC event here.

From the 12 students presenting, first place was awarded to Flynn Adcock – Science; second place to Samuel Martin Treceno – Engineering; and third place to Morgan Tracy – Science. Highly Commended was awarded to Amanda Board – Science, and Sriparna Saha – Science and Education.

Flynn’s thesis looks at the interactions between methane degrading bacteria and purple non-sulphur bacteria, as part of a larger project with Crown Research Institute Scion focused on using bacteria to remediate methane gas.

“Their interaction in a liquid culture has the potential to degrade methane and produce a polyester called PHA which is used in the fabrication of bioplastics. This could mean a future where bioreactors are attached to rubbish tips, wastewater treatment facilities, and oil and gas extraction and process plants, which will limit the release of methane to the environment.

“One of the reasons I entered Three Minute Thesis is because I am passionate about science communication and believe that being able to communicate these complex topics to people unfamiliar with them is key in addressing the bigger issue.”

Flynn’s video was entered in the Masters 3MT National Inter-University Challenge and awarded highly commended. Watch Flynn’s video here.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is also a focus of second place winner Samuel Martin Treceno’s thesis which looks at the feasibility of extracting high valuable metals from slag, the largest by-product of steelmaking factories.

“My research has proved that that it is possible to recycle this material. The process that I am working on uses electricity and has the potential to avoid greenhouse gas emissions. My goal is to develop an alternative way to produce metals that would allow us to meet our current material needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

As the top PhD in the competition, Samuel will be representing UC at the 2020 Asia-Pacific Three Minute Thesis Competition on 1 October. Watch Samuel’s video here.

Third-prize winner Morgan Tracy’s thesis focuses on neighbourhood effects and pollination systems of invasive species on Carmichaelia, a rare, endemic broom.

“Understanding how the neighbourhood effects of large, showy invasives influence our small, inconspicuous natives is critical for us to be able to target our conservation efforts to best protect native biodiversity. I entered 3MT because it was a great opportunity to communicate my passion for nature and the native environment.” 

This year the event included a new competition, Visualise your Thesis, where postgraduate students were invited to create a 60-second video to showcase their research. First place was awarded to Jane Alexander – Engineering; second place to Daniel Boczniewicz – Engineering; third place to Mareike Barbuder – Science. Jane’s entry will represent UC at the international competition, operating out of the University of Melbourne.