Quick studies: CAHNRS students break down research for 3 Minute Thesis contest
Students condensed years of research into quick three-minute descriptions, then shared their discoveries sans notes or props with a public audience in the annual CAHNRS Three Minute Thesis competition.
Nineteen students—11 master’s and eight doctoral scholars—took part March 20, 2023, at Ensminger Pavilion. Finalists received scholarships, with the doctoral winner advancing to the WSU competition, 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, at the Spark building.
First-place and people’s choice winner Samodya Jayasinghe, doctoral scholar in Plant Pathology, presented her work studying resistance to several devastating potato viruses. Most potato production areas in Washington have reported the presence of these diseases.
“Right now, we don’t have any successful chemical controls,” she said.
Jayasinghe seeks to understand the genetic basis behind resistance and is analyzing data to find the genes responsible, ultimately helping create hardier plants.
“The information and knowledge that I develop in my research would be useful in studying pathogens in other economically important commodities.”
Second-place winner Camille Wagstaff, student in Molecular Plant Sciences and Entomology, studies tiny leafhopper insects spreading a damaging disease called Curly Top Virus in Washington potato crops.
“When this insect slurps up its lunch, it also slurps up these pathogens,” which then survive and spread. “The lifecycle of the leafhopper keeps these pathogens returning every year.”
Examining potatoes’ ability to fight off infection, “so we can confirm this trait onto other super-susceptible crops,” such as hemp, Wagstaff is also trapping the bugs and analyzing the contents of their stomachs to learn what they feed on.
“My goal is to inform farmers of the highest risks of where leafhoppers are coming from, to improve pest management methods,” she said.
Tied for first, entomology master’s student Kellen Pautzke shared her research on how soil variation can dramatically affect mosquito habitat and survival.
“Every year, around one million people die from mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, and encephalitis,” Pautzke said. “This heavy disease burden is why we’re interested in learning as much as we can” about how the environment influences mosquito distribution.
“Slight variations in soil chemistry and properties create differences in habitat suitability,” she said. “If we can learn more about interactions between mosquitos, water, and soils, we can predict mosquito distribution in the landscape, and where to target for treatment, potentially improving the lives of billions.”
Fellow first-place winner Lynnanne Chao, student in Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles, shared her research into consumer attitudes, design preferences, and buying behaviors toward a modern version of the qipao, a traditional Chinese gown.
“My study includes the historical context, design elements and techniques, which include the Chinese panko (knotted buttons), sleeve designs, embroidering technique, stand-up high-neck collar, and the slit of the dress.”
Chao surveyed more than 200 women, ages 18-26, and learned that “most of the Gen-Z females strongly liked the details” of the modern designs, which positively impacted their purchasing decisions.
Henry Hurt, master’s student in plant pathology, was the people’s choice winner for his presentation on production of edible mushrooms on organic waste.
“Fungi are essential actors in the circle of life,” Hurt said. “When a plant dies in the forest or the field, fungi are there to break down the dead material, releasing the old plant’s resources back into the soil where it can be used by new plants.”
Large quantities of organic waste from the agriculture and food industries are rarely composted or returned to cropland. Hurt is studying how five species of edible mushrooms can be grown on materials such as wheat straw or sawdust. If feasible, such substrates could help reduce local organic waste, improve soil health, and increase mushroom yields.
Additional contestants included Barakatullah Mohammadi, Kesevan Veloo, Gianna Desch, Olivia Shaffer, Jennifer Darner, India Cain, Roshani Baral, Noah Willsea, Dowen Jocson, Mugal Dahal, Kiersten Ritchie, Qingyan Meng, Caleb Wagner, and Mark Schrader.