Five engineering and applied sciences PhD students to participate in the 3MT competition

by Nicole Capozziello

Published March 5, 2020

Extending the battery life of drones and using AI to assess damaged bridges are just a few of the research topics that doctoral students from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will present at this year’s Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT).

"As a PhD student you are so immersed in the technical aspects of your research that it can be hard to consistently keep in touch with the ultimate goal and impact of what you’re doing. Participating in 3MT has helped me put those higher goals into words, bringing clarity and motivation to my PhD journey. It's really exciting to share that with the community."
Nagashri Lakshminarayana, PhD candidate
Department of Computer Science and Engineering

The five will be among the 12 students who take the stage during the annual event next week. They are Farshad Ghanei and Nagashri Lakshminarayana, from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Seyed Hamed Ghodsi and Seyed Omid Sajed, from the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and Oladapo Ogunbodede from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Since it was first held at the University of Queensland in 2008, the 3MT competition has been challenging doctoral students around the world to succinctly and engagingly present their research in 180 seconds. With just one PowerPoint slide, finalists are judged on their ability to effectively convey the essence and importance of their research to a diverse audience of non-specialists. The competition is held at over 900 universities, in 85 countries, around the world.

“As a PhD student you are so immersed in the technical aspects of your research that it can be hard to consistently keep in touch with the ultimate goal and impact of what you’re doing,” says Nagashri Lakshminarayana. “Participating in 3MT has helped me put those higher goals into words, bringing clarity and motivation to my PhD journey. It's really exciting to share that with the community. “

The UB 3MT competition will take place Friday, March 13, 2020 at 3 p.m. in the Center for the Arts Screening Room on North Campus. The event is co-hosted by the UB Graduate School and Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.

Meet the finalists from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Farshad Ghanei.

Farshad Ghanei

Farshad Ghanei, of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, is originally from Tehran, Iran. Ghanei will be presenting his research on battery-powered systems such as smartphones, robots and vehicles like drones. He recently defended his thesis, “Energy Awareness in Mobile Embedded Systems,” which studies how per-component and per-task energy measurements can improve these systems, ultimately making them more energy efficient. His doctoral advisor is Karthik Dantu.

“At UB, I like the department and faculty, the helpful staff, and the fact that we have a beautiful lake,” says Ghanei. In addition to his work as a student, he teaches Nearu self-defense and martial arts classes on campus twice per week. Over the past six years, he’s taught over 130 students over more than 550 sessions.

Seyed Hamed Ghodsi.

Seyed Hamed Ghodsi

Seyed Hamed Ghodsi, originally from Babolsar, Iran, is a doctoral student in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. He’ll be presenting his thesis “Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Prediction and Reduction,” which aims to study the frequency of untreated overflows of runoff and sewage (known as Combined Sewer Overflow) being released into local bodies of water and then reduce them using Green Infrastructure. Reducing CSOs will improve the quality of water used for drinking, living and recreation, while also preventing harm to aquatic life. His advisor is Zhenduo Zhu.

“I’m looking forward to challenging myself to make my work understandable for people who do not come from the same research area,” says Ghodsi. He also sees the 3MT competition as an opportunity to force himself to compete with other PhD students. In his free time, Ghodsi plays volleyball and soccer; he’s won two intramural volleyball and one indoor soccer championship since starting his PhD program.

Oladapo Ogunbodede.

Oladapo Ogunbodede

Oladapo Ogunbodede, a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, hails from Owo, Nigeria. For the 3MT competition, he’ll be presenting his thesis “Energy Efficient Drones: Lessons from Nature.” His research looks to nature to understand how birds like the albatross have been perfecting flying efficiently for centuries. This work could be used to improve fuel efficiency in drones, saving on costs and helping the environment, and potentially opening them up to expanded use for purposes such as package and healthcare delivery. His advisor is Tarunraj Singh.

“One of the things that drew me to the aerospace program in UB is the reputation of professors in the dynamics and control group. All are top-notch with a wealth of experience, both in industry and academia,” says Ogunbodede. “3MT has not only given me a chance to share my thesis with the world but also the skillset to do so.”

In addition to his research, he enjoys flying remote control airplanes and developing IoT (Internet of Things) devices with modular boards. He recently used a Raspberry Pi computer system to create a room control system that can lock doors, sense when someone is in the room, and use relays to switch on the lights.

Nagashri Lakshminarayana.

Nagashri Lakshminarayana

Nagashri Lakshminarayana, originally from Bangalore, India, is a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Lakshminarayana will be presenting her thesis “Automated Facial Action Unit Recognition using Contextual Attention” at the 3MT competition.

In her research, she takes inspiration from natural vision to train machine learning models to recognize facial expressions at the level of muscle movements on the face. “While emotions are central to human interactions, human-computer interactions lack the empathy factor. The focus of my research is to bridge this gap by building ‘human centric’ systems that can spot and recognize facial expressions,” says Lakshminarayana. Ultimately, this technology could be used for applications like monitoring the state of drivers to prevent accidents and understanding pain and depression in geriatric patients. Her advisor is Venu Govindaraju.

Lakshminarayana was drawn to UB in part because of its large and diverse community. “I love how this has led to exciting cross disciplinary opportunities for young researchers like me,” she says. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and playing elaborate board games.

Seyed Omid Sajedi.

Seyed Omid Sajedi

Seyed Omid Sajedi, a doctoral student in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, hails from Tehran, Iran. Sajedi’s thesis, “Artificially Intelligent Systems for Structural Health Monitoring,” explores how AI systems can be used to identify structural damage to important civil infrastructure like bridges and hospitals, without or with very limited human interaction. The work would ultimately utilize AI to minimize the downtime and repair of such structures. Sajedi’s advisor is Xiao Liang.

“Since the moment I started doing my research, it’s been important to me to explain the significance of this interdisciplinary topic to people from various backgrounds,” says Sajedi. “This competition is therefore a great opportunity for me. I know that competing with excellent rivals from other fields is going to be tough but it is going to be an experience that I will cherish forever.”

Outside of his work, Sajedi pursues his artistic interests, including graphic design, playing music, and taking photos of beautiful scenes of people and nature.