Grad Slam 2015 Final Round recap: The right to represent

by Kyle Crocco, Writing Peer
Monday, April 20, 2015 2:16 PM

The 10 finalists were acknowledged by the audience and Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti before they took questions. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Winning logo design by Lennon GrintaAt last we've arrived at the Final Round for UCSB 2015 Grad Slam. It's been a long, weary road to the Finals and lots of tears were shed on the way, mostly mine. If you weren't one of the hundreds in attendance at Corwin Pavilion on Friday afternoon to bear witness, this is what went down.

The UCSB Final round featured 10 winners from the Semifinal rounds vying for vast sums of money, bragging rights, and the right to represent UCSB at the UC Campuswide Grad Slam Final in Oakland on May 4. The finalist hopefuls entered the room, looking their best, hoping to grasp the blue ribbon of greatness, but only one left the room with the Grand Prize and a date for future glory. While only one became UCSB's Champion, all were winners. The finalists were surprised to learn that each would receive a free speaker from sponsor Sonos. Other corporate sponsors this year were Yardi, which provided the $5,000 Grand Prize, and QAD.

Here are the 10 finalists and their far-reaching topics.

  • There was a packed crowd in Corwin Pavilion for the Finals. Credit: Patricia MarroquinSarah Abdul-Wajid, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Using Sea Squirts to Find New Genetic Factors Controlling Birth Defects.” Sarah's research on sea squirts will help prevent a birth defect that affects one in 1,000 human babies. Her detailed slides provided audience members with images of what she sees under her microscope.
  • David Copp, Mechanical Engineering: “Closing the Loop: Engineering an Artificial Pancreas." David's research will help regulate blood glucose to aid diabetes patients. His mathematical algorithms can run continuous glucose sensors more effectively, and one day may help run an artificial pancreas.
  • Selvi Ersoy, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Killing Me Softly with Antibiotics.” Selvi's presentation showcased theproblems with current protocols in antibiotic efficacy testing. She compared lab test environments (in whichantibiotics are tested in a lab broth akin to a Caesar's Palace buffet) to actual physiological environments (in which antibiotics face immunity systems that rival the tenacity of Mr. T) in order to show that scientists have been determining antibiotic dosing all wrong.
  • Matthew Gebbie, Materials: “Simplifying Nature's Invention: Engineering Mussel Proteins into Biomedical Glues." Matthew's research takes inspiration from the way that mussels adhere to surfaces in aqueous environments as the basis for developing simplified versions of these adhesives in order to produce more positive and less traumatic outcomes in orthopedic surgery.
  • The ribbons, glass trophy, and Sonos speakers are displayed onstage. Credit: Patricia MarroquinAbel Gustafson, Communication: “Predicting Election Outcomes Using Wikipedia.” Abel demonstrated how the communication patterns of Internet users using sites such as Wikipedia can predict the outcome of United States political elections with greater accuracy than the traditional prediction models that are made from public opinion polls.
  • Daniel Hieber, Linguistics: “Renaissance on the Bayou: Reviving the Chitimacha Language.” Daniel is working with language documentation material recorded over 70 years ago in order to revive the Chitimacha language in Louisiana, to write a dictionary, and even create Rosetta Stone style software.
  • Lakshmanan Nataraj, Electrical and Computer Engineering: “Photographing Computer Programs to Identify Malicious Software.” Lakshmanan wants to stop malware. His research looked at computer programs in a completely different way: as digital photographs. His programs looked for patterns in these images, similar to how we would look for patterns in our daily photos, and then trained a system using Artificial Intelligence to identify malicious software programs.
  • Jessica Perkins, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management: “Life Cycle Assessment: There's More to the Story.” In a courageous move, Jessica turned off the PowerPoint slide projector and asked us to focus on the ballpoint pen in her hand. She encouraged us to think of all  the depleted resources, carbon emissions, and waste created in the making of this simple pen. Her life-cycle assessment research can help identify the unintended consequences of our materials and manufacturing decisions. "I could have told you about the projector, but we probably would have been here until the morning."
  • Erik Spickard, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Gonads to Guts: Reprogramming an Organ in the Nematode C. elegans.” Erik is trying to figure out why a little worm's gonad turned into a second gut when a particular gene was turned on in the worm. He believes that this process of changing one organ into another (or "transorganogenesis") could revolutionize the way that doctors treat failing or dysfunctional organs in humans.
  • Yan Wencheng, History of Art and Architecture: “Writing Modernity: Constructing a History of Chinese Architecture, 1920-1949.” Wencheng explained that although demolition comprises the majority of current Chinese urban architecture, there is no vocabulary to describe the process. She seeks to help shape the new vocabulary of modern Chinese architecture for architects, art historians, and others.

After a suspense-filled deliberation, the judges crowned one UCSB grad student Champion for the 2015 Grad Slam and the right to fight on for UCSB glory, while also acknowledging two other students as Runners-Up.

And the UCSB 2015 Grad Slam Champion and winner of $5,000 is ...

Daniel Hieber

And the Runners-Up are ...

Abel Gustafson

Jessica Perkins

The winners of the 2015 UCSB Grad Slam: Champion Daniel Hieber (Linguistics), center; and Runners-Up Abel Gustafson (Communication) and Jessica Perkins (Bren). Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Kyle's Kudos

Best Algorithm: David Copp (Artificial Pancreas)

Best Attention Getter: Selvi Ersoy (Is your doctor killing you?)

Best Kim Kardashian Reference: Sarah Abdul-Wajid ("You can watch it live, just like reality TV.")

Best Visuals: Yan Wencheng (Construction Destruction)

The winners congratulate one another while Dr. Tania Israel applauds. Credit: Patricia MarroquinKafka Award: Erik Spickard ("Have you ever lain in bed worrying that your lung turned into a kidney?")

Man on A Mission: Lakshmanan Nataraj ("We want to send a message to the evil hackers!")

Mr. Big Data: Abel Gustafson ("Just like undergraduates who were in need of an answer, we turned to Wikipedia.")

Pen is Mightier than the Slide Award: Jessica Perkins (Bic pen)

Rico Suave Award: Daniel Hieber (Smoothest gesturing, eyebrow movement, and eye contact with audience)

Sports Injury Savior: Matthew Gebbie (Mussel Proteins)

Final Round Judges

  • Jan Campbell, Senior Vice President for Philanthropic Services, Santa Barbara Foundation; Member UCSB Board of Trustees
  • Brent Constantz, Found and CEO, Blue Planet; Consulting Associate Professor, Geological Sciences, Stanford University
  • Shirley Lim, Professor Emerita, English, UCSB
  • Michael Witherell, Vice Chancellor for Research; Professor of Physics, UCSB

The Chitimacha language and Wikipedia were the topics of discussion by Daniel Hieber, left, and Abel Gustafson. Credit: Patricia Marroquin
Mussel proteins were the topic for Matthew Gebbie; and Chinese architecture was spotlighted in Yan Wencheng's talk. Credit: Patricia Marroquin
Erik Spickard and Jessica Perkins presented their talks at the Grad Slam Finals. Credit: Patricia Marroquin
David Copp spoke about an artificial pancreas; and Sarah Abdul-Wajid discussed sea squirts. Credit: Patricia Marroquin
Selvi Ersoy discussed antibiotics and Lakshmanan Nataraj spoke about malicious software. Credit: Patricia Marroquin
Communications Peer Melissa Rapp and Professional Development Peer Shawn Warner-Garcia also contributed to this article.