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CPMS Student Wins 3MT People’s Choice Award


Biochemistry graduate student Diana Saavedra won the People’s Choice Award for the 3MT university-wide competition on March 9, 2017, in the BYU Varsity Theatre.

Eleven graduate students from different colleges competed for the chance to win the top cash prize of $5,000. The challenge was to explain their theses in three minutes or less and in language non-specialists would understand.

Saavedra represented the BYU College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences (CPMS) with her biochemistry research on a compound in the mayapple plant (Podophyllum peltatum) that scientists have found can treat several forms of cancer. In her presentation, “Unlocking Nature’s Puzzle,” Saavedra discussed how podophyllotoxin (PDT) is safer and more potent than the FDA-approved drug etoposide.

Because Saavedra is concerned about the supply of mayapples, Saavedra’s goal is to break the compound down into smaller bits that could be produced in a chemistry lab. She compared her research to solving a thousand-piece puzzle.

“I am not only synthesizing a compound that can become an effective treatment against cancer,” Saavedra said during the presentation. “I am also discovering new chemistry that can be applied to related synthesis of natural products. This could reduce the number of steps in a synthesis and lower the cost of fabrication of some cancer drugs.”

BYU Graduate Studies surprised Saavedra with the People’s Choice Award on March 16 with a cash prize of $1,000.

Saavedra said before she won the People’s Choice Award that she felt good about her presentation.

“I had so many good comments about it and many questions, which means that people wanted to learn more,” she said. “I felt honored to represent the college and the amazing research that we are doing.”

The winners who won first, second, and third place in the 3MT Competition were Kaitlin Ward, Heidi Vogeler, and Jared Butler respectively.

Ward, a social work graduate student, presented her research on how men’s clinical depression decreases when they have social support and are encouraged to get treatment. She received a cash award prize of $5,000 for her presentation, “Social Support and Male Depression.”

Vogeler—a PhD candidate in the Education Inquiry, Measurement, and Evaluation program—argued that partners of sex addicts suffer symptoms of trauma and are neither codependent nor responsible for their partners’ addictions. Vogeler placed second and won $2,500 for her presentation, “The Traumatic Nature of Discovering Your Partner’s Sex Addiction.”

Butler, a mechanical engineering graduate student, explained how he was using the principles of origami to design space metal shielding that reduced the shield’s mass by 96 percent and was ten times cheaper than traditional metal shielding. His presentation, “Origami-based Shielding in Space Applications,” won third place, and Butler received $1,000.