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Finalist Yang Xi Zin Xu (Cindy) uses a slide of game controllers to demonstrate her concept.

3MT finalist explains medicine with video games

March 5, 2018 — 

What’s the protein prohibitin got to do with Nintendo?

Yang Xi Zin Xu (Cindy) can tell you. Not only that, she’ll do it in three minutes or less.

Xu is a PhD student in the department of Physiology & Pathophysiology in the Max Rady College of Medicine. On Feb. 27, she came out on top as one of three challengers from Heat 2 of the annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition chosen to move on to the final heat.

Xu is engaged in complex research, but the key to success at 3MT is making it simple enough for a non-specialist audience to understand using only one image and some serious public speaking skills.

“When I made my slide, I envisioned something simple, intuitive and relatable,” said Xu. She already had the idea of a switch in her mind, but it was seeing her boyfriend’s blue and red Joy-Con controllers that really brought the idea alive. “It was definitely an epiphany during a late night script-writing session,” said Xu.

For her slide, she took an illustration of a male and female and overlaid images of the controller on their bodies, buttons placed a little bit differently depending on gender. Then she described how the protein she is studying functions in certain types of cells and how this occurs in men versus women. The buttons show you exactly where the different functions are taking place and what they control.

Just look from one person to the other and you can easily spot the differences. In just three minutes, she had translated a project called “Prohibitin: a Player in the Sex Difference of Adipose and Immune Functions” into an engaging talk suitable for a broad audience. “It’s challenging, but definitely worth the work,” she said.

“Our hope is that this type of event will help students improve their conversations around research,” said Hope Anderson, vice-dean, graduate studies for the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. By using relatable anecdates and common images – like a game controller – researchers can help the public gain valuable insight into work that’s normally done at the bench or in a database.

It’s not just a way for the academically-minded to make connections with friends and family. It’s got broad implications for both students and the university, said Anderson. “This will afford career-building opportunities in the future, promote pure research at the University of Manitoba and connect research to the community,” she said.

Congratulations to the Heat 2 3MT challengers who will be moving on to the competition final on March 21, including Sandhini Lockman, Yang Xi Zin Xu (Cindy) and Nivedita Seshadri (seen here left to right).

Finals will take place on March 21, 2018 at Robert B. Schultz Lecture Theatre at St. John’s College. Out of the twelve finalists, one will go on to the Western Regional Three Minute Thesis competition on April 27.


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