Dog food research triumphs at 3MT finals

Massey PhD 3MT winner Mark Roberts with Te Radar

A veterinary researcher beat 10 other finalists to win the PhD finals of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition with his research on dog protein requirements.

The competition format is a strict three-minute presentation with one slide, no props and with the aim of making audience want to know more, not to trivialise or generalise on the topic, and to be enthusiastic and engaging.

Mark Roberts took home the $5000 first prize and will fly to Brisbane next week for the 2016 Asia-Pacific 3MT Competition at the University of Queensland. His presentation impressed the four judges who praised his passionate delivery and clear outline of his research topic on whether dogs, like humans and cats, are consuming too many carbohydrates and not enough energy-giving protein and fat, causing obesity.

Mr Roberts, who trains and races Siberian huskies, became interested in the nutritional content of dog food through his involvement in racing sled teams.  This interest took him to study with the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences.,and says his research is inspired by stories his father told him of his work as a geologist in Antarctica in the 1960s while looking after sled dogs.

PhD volcano researcher Braden Walsh, winner of the People's Choice Award

X Factor academics deserve a TV show says host

The competition, held at Palmerston North’s Globe Theatre on Wednesday night, saw PhD finalists from Massey and Inter-University Masters finalists take part in the X Factor-style competition for scholars, with comedian and celebrity Te Radar as host.

Throughout the night, the audience and judges heard about bees on pub crawls, godwits with superpowers, lunar-phobic mammals and double-whammy disasters in the form of the ‘Quake-Cano’ as participants got inventive with language and analogies to best communicate the complexities of their research to a general audience.

Providing a hilarious commentary to the programme of six master’s and 11 PhD finalists, Te Radar (real name Andrew Lumsden) told the audience he was dazzled by the depth and breadth of the research.

He suggested a television series to feature some of the innovative, fascinating research being done in New Zealand’s universities, saying they are great stories and would inspire the next generation of young people.

The event showcased how researchers are grappling with important issues and seeking to find solutions to problems to do with clean water, waste treatment, pest control, antibiotic resistance and disaster warning systems.

Master's National finalists and 3MT judges

Canine mastitis, honey and disasters in Master’s winners

Massey University canine mastitis researcher Siti Anurddin took out the master’s section and $1000 for her study on what causes the potentially fatal condition. Already a qualified vet with a degree from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Ms Anurddin came to New Zealand in June to carry out her research on a topic she is passionate about. She says dogs in guide dog, working farm dog and police dog breeding programmes are at risk for the potentially fatal condition and is focusing her research on guide dogs.

She was up against master’s researchers from around New Zealand whose topics included court-based and restorative justice; how bees use nectar to make Manuka honey; the dynamics of growth in the sharing economy with new forms of business such as Uber and Airbnb; and using mammals’ sensitivity to moonlight in the war against predators.

Runner-up in the master’s section was Kay Higginbotham, University of Canterbury, who won $500 for her presentation on her study of the phenomenon of the Quake-Cano – how earthquakes trigger volcanic eruptions. Ms Anurddin also won the People’s Choice award, worth $250.

Environmental, health issues dominate in PhD research

Science and health topics dominated the PhD section, with the sole exception of Victoria Kerry – a linguistics researcher in the School of Humanities who is studying how YouTube conversations on same-sex marriage offer a voice to people who otherwise feel too threatened to share their experiences.

Runner-up was Angela Parody-Merino, from the Institute of Agriculture and Environment, who is studying godwits’ DNA to find out more on their “super-powers” – including an internal timing system – of this long-distance migratory bird that flies from New Zealand to Alaska every year. She won $2000.

And the People’s Choice Award, worth $1000, went to Braden Walsh from the Institute of Agriculture and Environment, who hopes to develop a phone app from his study using seismic techniques for real time analysis of volcanic lava flows for warning and risk management.

Other participants included Yanita McLeay, School of Sport and Exercise, who is investigating whether feathers can be turned into food for athletes, as a form of keratin supplement, and Heather Collins, from the Institute of Agriculture and Environment, who is examining the social norms and behavioural codes among farmers that determine whether they report on environmental issues such as effluent levels in water.

The judges were Palmerston North City Councillor Tangi Utikere; Massey University Council member Ben Vanderkolk; Assistant Vice-Chancellor Research, Academic and Enterprise Professor Giselle Byrnes; and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Massey Business School Professor Ted Zorn.

Find out more about the 3MT competition here.

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