On May 4, graduate students from all ten UC campuses participated in the first annual UC system-wideGrad Slam tournament. The competition showcased a sample of the creative research and sharpest minds across science, linguistic, stem cell and neuroscience fields.

Ten graduate students competed to explain their research in a way that is entertaining, informative and engaging to the public. The event was held at the Oakland Marriott Hotel, near the UC Office of the President.

Contestants included:

  • Ph.D. candidate Alexis Shusterman of UC Berkeley
  • Ryan Dowdy, a food science student at UC Davis
  • Ashley Fong studying “scaffolding” made of skin cells for stem cells at UC Irvine
  • Jean Paul Santos studying space­-based antennas at UCLA
  • Nathaniel Bogie studying drought research at UC Merced
  • Jeannette Rapicavoli studying the global food crisis at UC Riverside
  • Alex Phan studying implanted sensors to help glaucoma patients at UC San Diego
  • Sama Ahmed studying fruit fly’s courtship at UC San Francisco
  • Daniel Hieber studying native languages at UC Santa Barbara
  • Justine Smith studying the ecological impact of humans at UC Santa Cruz

Contestants were judged on clarity, organization, delivery, visuals, appropriateness, intellectual significance, and engagement.

Presiding over the event was UC President Janet Napolitano as emcee. After the whirlwind back-to-back presentations, the judges’ scores were tallied. The top three winners are:

  • First place: UC Irvine’s Ashley Fong for her presentation titled “Stem Cells: How to Mend a Broken Heart”
  • Second place: UC Santa Barbara’s Daniel Hieber for his presentation titled “Renaissance on the Bayou: Reviving the Chitimacha Language”
  • Third place: UC San Diego’s Alex Phan for his presentation titled “Intraocular Pressure Sensor: Fight for Sight”

The Grad Slam winner received a prize of $6,000 and a stylized microphone award called the “Slammy”. Runners up received prizes of $3,000, and $1,000 respectively, along with a citation to recognize their participation.

Shusterman, who was introduced as the second contestant, presented her idea about monitoring carbon dioxide in high-definition using the analogy of pixels. “We live in an era of high definition,” she said. “We know having more pixels makes life better.” She described a new approach to monitoring carbon dioxide as part of BEACO2N (Berkeley Atmospheric CO2 Observation Network), a hi-def carbon dioxide monitoring instrument.

Second place winner Daniel Hieber discussed his research goal to document languages like Native American Chitimacha before they disappear. Hieber began his presentation by discussing two Louisiana residents who were the last speakers of the Chitimacha language. “Image what it’s like to be the last speakers of your language knowing that when you pass away, your language will fall silent,” said Hieber. “These endangered languages, or languages no longer being learned by the youth, have some of the most fascinating things to tell us about the nature and history of language.”

Third place winner Alex Phan is developing an implanted sensor to help glaucoma patients continually monitor their eye pressure.

To view the contestants in action, see the Grad Slam video.

The Grad Slam concluded with thanks to the UC Graduate Deans, including Dean Fiona Doye, who orchestrated the campus competitions. UC Santa Barbara Graduate Dean Carol Genetti received special accolades for starting Grad Slam on her campus three years ago and turning it into a system-wide competition.