2018 UCI Grad Slam Names Three Top Winners

Past Tides
March 9, 2018 By Jackie Connor

First place will move on to UC-wide competition.

On March 2nd, UCI Applied Innovation hosted the fourth annual Grad Slam at the Cove @ UCI. Out of 51 total graduate student applicants, 10 were chosen to each present their research/thesis in a three-minute pitch to a panel of judges and a packed room at the Beach. Out of the top 10 presenters, three graduate students were named finalists, of which one was crowned the competition’s overall winner.

“The research is absolutely amazing,” said Frances Leslie, Ph.D., vice provost of graduate education and dean of graduate division. “Our judges were blown away with the quality of the presentations. We are all impressed with how clearly all these students can explain their work.”

Each winner received recognition awards as well as prize money. First place took home $2,000, second place won $750 and third received $500.
Alana Ogata, chemistry Ph.D. student, took home first place for her at-home cancer test, which will make early cancer detection available to the general public. Ogata designed an electronic sensor the size of a penny that detects the specific excess protein produced by a cancerous tumor via urine sample. The results are sent directly to that person’s smartphone.

2018 UCI Grad Slam Winner Alana Ogata, chemistry, Ph.D. student, shares her research with the audience at the Cove @ UCI.

“I’m pretty humbled, everyone’s research was great,” said Ogata. “I hear too much [about cancer], so it’s a problem everyone can relate to and I want to try to solve it with other people.”

Ogata will advance to the UC-wide competition where she will compete against finalists from other campuses for a chance to win $10,000 in prize money.

Gianna Fote, M.D./Ph.D. student, was awarded second place for her research on huntingtin protein and how it may serve as a “garbage collector” for the brain by clearing-out misfolded protein. This may result in helping patients diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s disease.

“There is very little neurologists can do for people with dementia,” said Fote. “There just aren’t enough therapies and cures because we don’t know how these diseases work. So that really drew me to research.”

Christie Mortales, M.S., department of microbiology and molecular genetics, received third place and took home $500 for her research on improved (and “sweet”) treatments for autoimmune diseases, specifically multiple sclerosis.

“I had a lot of fun preparing for this and I think it’s a great opportunity to share my work and the work of my lab to the general Orange County population,” said Mortales. “I’m really passionate about engagement between scientists and non-scientists and strengthening that relationship.”

The UC system-wide competition will be lived streamed on May 3rd at the LinkedIn campus in San Francisco. For more information about Grad Slam, visit here.