2018 Undergraduate Research Showdown winners announced

Grace Dickens

Four undergraduate students were recognized for their excellence in science communication at the Texas Undergraduate Research Showdown reception held Tuesday at the Main Building.

The competition gives researchers the opportunity to share their work in a two minute video. First, second and third place are chosen by a panel of judges, while the Audience Choice award was chosen by UT students.

Robert Reichle, coordinator of the Office of Undergraduate Research, said the competition is designed to benefit both the researchers and the public.

“We created this competition because we wanted a chance for student researchers to push themselves to communicate their work to a large audience,” said Reichle. “A lot of our researchers have had success at academic conferences, but it’s equally, if not more important, to explain the value and importance of your work to someone who doesn’t know about it.”

Physics junior Zoe de Beurs took the first place prize of $2,500 with her video titled “Cosmic Bullets, Detection of Particles from Outer Space,” which explores the mystery surrounding energetic particles that could provide insight into the most extreme environments in the universe.

“It was hard choosing which information to share in two minutes, but learning how to communicate your research is really valuable,” de Beurs said. “Everyday, people being able to understand your research can be really important for things like policy decisions.”

Biology and nursing senior Kelsey Mumford won second place with a $1,000 prize. Her video, titled “Preventing Racial Bias in Autism Spectrum Disorder Screening,” focuses on determining the relationship between autism and movement to determine a standardized, unbiased system for diagnosing autism.

Senior linguistics student Emily Saunders won third place and $500 for her video titled “Benefits of Iconicity for Comprehension of a Signed Second Language.” This video was based on her senior thesis examining what methods are helpful to new and beginning American Sign Language learners. She used sign language on screen, added a voice over and used captions to put ASL at the forefront of her video.

“I think it’s really cool that this particular competition places an emphasis on communicating to the general audience,” Saunders said. “It was a really big learning experience when I was figuring out what was important to communicate. That was the most educational aspect of it, for me.”

The Audience Choice Award for $1,000 was awarded to neuroscience junior Simren Lakhotia. Her video, titled “Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Detection via LAMP,” focuses on a new method called LAMP to amplify DNA to detect the deadly bacterial infection Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which only takes five days to kill its host.

Overall, this competition aimed to make researchers better communicators. It also represents the bridging of multiple disciplines and their mutual need to convey information to the general public, Reichle said.

“I started this program back in 2015, and it’s really evolved since then,” Reichle said. “This year, we saw twice as many participants as when we started, and researchers came from a variety of fields. This competition really does cover every corner of campus.”