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Gibbs Wins “3 Minutes to Be Brilliant” Thesis Competition

Nina Welding • DATE: April 11, 2016

Maria Gibbs, a graduate student in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences, won the University of Notre Dame Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition beating out 32 other participants in the 2016 competition.  She was selected for her presentation “Dancing Bridges: A Human-centered Approach to Prevent Flutter in Footbridges.”

The audience watched and listened closely as she presented her work on addressing wind vulnerability in long-span footbridges in developing countries. These structures provide necessary access to schools, markets, and healthcare for isolated communities and safe and easy access can make a world of difference to individuals in these areas. According to her advisor, Robert M. Moran Professor of Engineering Ahsan Kareem, Gibbs has long been interested in solving everyday problems through design and engineering innovation. In fact, through her research which was conducted in partnership with Bridges to Prosperity, she has collected information about dozens of footbridges in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Haiti, Bolivia, Rwanda.

“Collecting data about bridge dynamics usually requires expensive, cumbersome equipment,” she says. “We need to know the bridges’ frequencies, damping ratios, and mode shapes to predict their behavior in wind. But current sensing systems cannot be rapidly deployed to dozens of remote footbridges across three continents. Far from stopping her, this encouraged Gibbs to figure out ways in which she could collect the necessary data using smart phone accelerometers. With this data she then conducted wind tunnel experiments in China on a deck sections model of a standard suspension footbridge. The next step of her research is to use the tools she’s developed in collaboration with community leaders, bridge masons, and engineers from Bridges to Prosperity to outline wind mitigation strategies that will be adopted into the organization’s standardized footbridge design.

“I believe people everywhere deserve the opportunity to build healthy, productive lives for themselves and their families,” she said. “Working with Bridges to Prosperity and local communities to build safe footbridges in challenging environments around the world — helping students, farmers, families, and others to create a better future for themselves — is exciting to be a part of.”

Gibbs also won the 2016 Three Minute Thesis competition sponsored by the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools, which featured winners from approximately 20 universities across the midwest.


More about 3MT
Originally developed in 2008 by The University of Queensland, Australia, for its Ph.D. students, 3MT® has continued to grow, being held in 19 countries with more than 35 research universities sponsoring similar competitions in the United States.

The goal of 3MT is simple: not only must the research conducted by the Ph.D. students be stellar, able to impact the quality of life, the students must be able to explain it to a wide audience — industry, academia, and consumers — within three minutes. The competition provides an opportunity to the students to sharpen their professional presentation skills while supporting their passion for discovery, promoting their work, and developing a community of researchers with whom they can interact and discuss their findings and the implications to society.

All active Ph.D. candidates at Notre Dame who have passed their candidacy exams were eligible. Participants were allowed a single static PowerPoint slide each with no other electronic media and no additional props, and all were judged on the power of their presentation, as well as how well they communicated their message. Were they clear and concise? Did they generalize their research? Were they enthusiastic? And, did they capture and maintain the audience’s attention?

See all three finalist’s presentations and get more information on the 3MT competition.