Five Winners Named at Nutshell Games February 8
February 9, 2023
A kiddie car, a balloon suit, a hard hat, a bicycle, a potted plant, a personality test: not every Nutshell Games contestant used a prop, but every one of the 29 graduate student presenters did use their passion for their research to communicate with a supportive and enthusiastic audience of more than 250 community members. This year’s Nutshell Games, a science communication event featuring 90-second talks about a wide array of research topics, was judged by a panel of seven community and campus representatives who – as always – had a very tough time selecting just five winners.
But after tallying each judge’s top five picks, the 7-member panel made their announcement. The 2023 Nutshell Games winners, representing five of Virginia Tech’s colleges, were
· Kayla Alward, dairy science, "Keep your cows in the dark: How darkness affects cows," College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
· Emily M. Burns, higher education, "Meeting disabled college students’ access needs," College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
· Emily Ellis, geosciences, "Observing river temperatures from space," College of Science
· Holly Funkhouser, fish and wildlife conservation, "Raising hell(benders): A quest to understand the mysterious disappearance of a giant salamander species," College of Natural Resources and Environment
· Zuleka Woods, public health, "Oh, baby! A community-based doula intervention for Black birthing people," Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
At the Nutshell Games, held February 8 at the Moss Arts Center, each graduate student presenter had just 90 seconds to explain their research to a public audience. Presented by Virginia Tech’s Center for Communicating Science, the event was the seventh such competition held on the Blacksburg campus.
This year’s panel of judges included community members Tony Deibler, Administrator of Science Curriculum, Montgomery County Public Schools; Town of Blacksburg’s Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith; and Blacksburg Middle School 7th grader Neda Jantzen. Virginia Tech representatives were Carlos Evia, Associate Dean for Transdisciplinary Initiatives, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; Ron Fricker, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs; Phyllis Newbill, Associate Director of Educational Networks, Center for Educational Networks and Impacts; and Aimée Surprenant, Dean of Graduate Education.
A preparatory workshop for contestants was held at the Moss Arts Center January 31. Facilitated by Center for Communicating Science faculty Patty Raun and Carrie Kroehler, the workshop provided contestants with an opportunity to explore the space, practice speaking onstage, get to know one another, and learn to use both bodies and voices to communicate more effectively. About a third of the contestants also had completed or were currently enrolled in the Center’s graduate-level course, Communicating Science (GRAD 5144).
Center Faculty Fellow Mason Rosenthal, a post-MFA fellow in the theatre department in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts, engaged the audience in devising a Nutshell talks performance while the judges conferred. With the contestants and judges on stage, the audience performed their devised piece, incorporating embodied concepts from the talks such as labor and delivery, accessibility, magnets, and biosilicification.
As Dean of Graduate Education and Nutshell Games judge Dr. Aimée Surprenant emphasized, all the participants were winners. They registered to compete, created and rehearsed their talks, and had the courage and passion necessary to share their research with a big crowd.
The complete roster of contestants included
· Kayla Alward, dairy science, “Keep your cows in the dark: How darkness affects cows”
· Erica Howes, human nutrition, foods, and exercise, “You are what you eat: How weight stigma affects how we talk about food in research”
· Laura McHenry, entomology, “Bees can’t handle their weed(killer)”
· Julia Montgomery, biochemistry, “Using a computer to simulate membranes and membrane proteins”
· Eileen Herbers, biomedical engineering and mechanics, “Measuring the safety of automated driving systems: How safe is safe enough?”
· Naga Nitish Chamala, aerospace engineering, “The problems of flowing water”
· Benedict Isaac, electrical engineering, “Applications of 5G in indoor positioning”
· Nure Tasnina, computer science, “Find drug combinations to fight cancer”
· Bala Priya Shanmugam, engineering mechanics, “Meshfree magnetics”
· Pratiksha Dhakal, structural engineering, “Beat the quake: Make buildings strong”
· Chandan Sinha, mechanical engineering, “Robot mechanic in space”
· Sanjay Vasanth, aerospace and ocean engineering, “Exploring the connection between fluid flow, surface roughness, and cavitation”
· Emily M. Burns, higher education, “Meeting disabled college students’ access needs”
· Holly Funkhouser, fish and wildlife conservation, “Raising hell(benders): A quest to understand the mysterious disappearance of a giant salamander species”
· Sharon Dorsey, fish and wildlife conservation, “Keep your head on a swivel: Importance of view to see predators in plover nest site selection”
· Poulomi Dey, forest resources and environmental conservation, “Carbon sequestration: What affects the path and fate of stable soil organic matter formation?”
· Christopher Huynh, industrial/organizational psychology, “What’s your story? Measuring personality by hearing people’s stories”
· Mohammad Khorrami, geosciences, “CO2 capture and storage impact on our environment”
· Evangelos Piliouras, physics, “Quantum cartoons and where to find them”
· Emily Ellis, geosciences, “Observing river temperatures from space”
· Christina McCutchin, chemistry, “Silica-macromolecule interactions: Toward a Rosetta Stone for biosilicification”
· Tristan Anderson, physics, “Quantum interferometry”
· Jennifer R. Bertollo, clinical psychology, “On the road again: Mobile autism assessment in Southwest Virginia”
· Jennifer Phillips, developmental science, “Mother knows best? Maternal influences on early childhood emotion regulation”
· Zuleka Woods, public health, “Oh, baby! A community-based doula intervention for Black birthing people”
· Juselyn Tupik, biomedical and veterinary sciences, “Body vs. bacteria: How our immune system battles Lyme Disease”
· Abdullahi Jamiu, biomedical sciences and pathobiology, “Designing therapeutics to tame viruses”
· Katelyn Stebbins, Carilion School of Medicine/Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health, “Losing sight of what’s important: The connection between the eyes and the brain”
· Sara Yazdi, Macromolecular Science and Engineering, “Mother Earth provides us whatever we need to live well”
Many thanks to our assistant Quinn Richards, who handled much of the event preparation; our panel of judges; the staff of the Moss Arts Center; the audience members; and our courageous presenters.