Western student wins top prize at national 3-Minute Thesis competition

Western University biochemical engineering student Joseph Donohue has won the top prize at Canada’s National 3-Minute Thesis competition (3MT), a research communication competition where graduate students have three minutes or less to present their research and its impact to a panel of non-specialist judges and peers.

After advancing from Western’s 3MT to the provincial championships, Donohue competed against 10 other semi-finalists in the National 3MT on May 14 at Concordia University, organized by the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS). 
His presentation of a new approach to the problem of overloaded sewage treatment facilities in isolated communities, thoroughly engaged the competition judges, who included Nobel laureate Dr. John Polanyi, CBC journalist Kady O’Malley and University of Waterloo Dean of Arts Doug Peers.
“Joseph’s presentation not only showed excellent academic rigour, but his work attempts to solve a real-world problem,” said Noreen Golfman, CAGS president. “The judges were impressed by his ability to engage them in a complicated biochemical process and the impact of its eventual application.”
Donohue’s proposed system builds upon conventional sewage treatment systems that leverage bacteria swimming through the water to remove waste. Rather than swimming, Donohue’s bacteria grow on small surfaces suspended in the water, such as sand or rocks where they can get much larger and remove more waste in a smaller space.
He is currently building smaller reactors on the bed of a semi-truck trailer, which can be transported to specific locations, reducing the need for large conventional sewer treatment facilities. The concept holds promise for use in densely populated areas that lack space for large facilities or in remote communities lacking infrastructure.
In addition to a cash prize of $1,500, Donohue will attend the CAGS Annual Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland in October 2014. His presentation from Western’s 3MT is available at: https://youtu.be/qp5lLSdAd3I 
The 3MT exercise develops academic, presentation, and research communication skills and supports the development of research students’ capacity to effectively explain their research in language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience. Developed by The University of Queensland (UQ), Australia, the first 3MT was held at UQ in 2008 with 160 graduate students competing. Enthusiasm for the 3MT concept grew and its adoption in numerous universities led to the development of an international competition in 2010. Western University was one of the first Canadian universities to host a 3MT competition in April, 2012 and will host the Ontario Regional 3MT in 2015.
For more on this story visit the CAGS site at: https://bit.ly/1qkuLyc
MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen Ledgley, Senior Media Relations Officer, Western University, sledgley@uwo.ca, 519-661-2111 x.85283
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