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PhD student from Agroecology win the annual Three Minute Thesis competition

Peat soils, paludiculture, and greenhouse gas emissions were the topics when Claudia Kalla Nielsen on 18 March won the annual Three Minute Thesis competition at Aarhus University, which this year was held digitally.

2021.03.20 | Camilla Brodam

Photo: Aarhus University

Explain your PhD thesis in just three minutes, so your grandmother can understand it. This was the plot for the annual Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT), which was held on 18 March. A total of 15 PhD students from different faculties participated in Aarhus University's version of the competition. 

And with more than 400 listeners, PhD student Claudia Kalla Nielsen from the Department of Agroecology turned up on the screen with a smile, to present her research in 3 minutes and with just a single slide as help.

Peat soils and paludiculture captured the audience and jury

The winner of the competition would be the PhD student who could perform best, i.e. present her research in an enthusiastic way that would not only capture the audience, but also get the results communicated in an understandable and exciting way.

"I told about climate and why peat soils are our number one climate killer," says Claudia Kalla Nielsen. “Only 0.3% of our global land area is drained peat soils, yet they account for as much as 5-6% of the total man-made greenhouse gas emissions. It is extreme, but if we rewet them and preserve the natural characteristics of the peat soil, we can save a lot of emissions.”

And even though the presentation couldn’t be longer than three minutes, Claudia Kalla Nielsen managed to touch upon several other aspects of her research.

“I also told about paludicultures, which are the main aspect of my research. Paludiculture is growing biomass on rewetted peat soils, i.e. grass,” says Claudia Kalla Nielsen.

The biomass grown in paludiculture is most often grass, which can be made into grass protein via a biorefining process. This protein can, for example, be used to feed pigs, who would otherwise not be able to utilise grass as a feed source. And another advantage of the grass protein is that it has the potential to be able to replace imported soy protein as a feed source.

International final this summer

With her presentation of how much greenhouse gas peat soils emit worldwide, Claudia Kalla Nielsen succeeded not only in capturing the attention of the audience, but also the jury so much that she was declared the winner of the competition.

In addition to a prize of a travel scholarship of DKK 35,000, Claudia Kalla Nielsen now also has the opportunity to present her research at the Coimbra Group's annual conference. It will be held virtually from Charles University in Prague on 16-18. June. A video recording of Claudia Kalla Nielsen's presentation will be sent to the international evaluation panel at the Coimbra Group, which will select three finalists from among all the national winners. The three finalists will take part in a live competition at the annual conference where the international winner will be chosen.

"There are participants from many other universities, so the competition is fierce," says Claudia Kalla Nielsen. 

A victory that people are interested in her research

A total of 35 European universities are participating in the 3MT competition, but according to Claudia Kalla Nielsen, it's not so much about winning, it's more about spreading the message behind her research.

“I think it is a huge victory for my research that more than 400 people sat and listened to me, and that they found my research interesting. Maybe it has even been an eye opener for them. It is a victory for the peatlands and for me, and the more I can convey to, the more we can perhaps achieve,” says Claudia Kalla Nielsen, who does not yet know what she will use the travel scholarship for.

Facts about the 3MT competition

The Coimbra Group 3MT competition was launched in 2017. The competition is divided into first national competitions at 35 universities in Europe. This year, Aarhus University's competition was held on 18 March 2021. A video clip of the natioanl winner is then be submitted to the Coimbra Group office, which will then launch an online poll. For the final part of the competition, three finalists will be selected from the submitted videos, and these three finalists will compete live at the Coimbra Group conference in June.

The competition is developed by the University of Queensland and aims to strengthen students' academic, presentation, and research communication skills. Here is the opportunity to practice effectively explaining the research in just three minutes in a language that suits a non-specialized audience.

Find more information on 3MT here: https://phd.au.dk/for-current-phd-students/3mt/

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