UCR Grad Student Talks Straight To Win Big

Peter Byrley's presentation on creating smaller, more powerful microprocessors using graphene instead of silicon made him UC’s newest Grad Slam champion.

A UC Riverside doctoral student who is working to create smaller, more powerful microprocessors using graphene instead of silicon is UC’s newest Grad Slam champion.

Grad student Peter Byrley took home the “Slammy” on April 22, the culmination of a systemwide contest that recognizes and rewards the gift for gab – specifically, the ability to summarize complex research for a lay audience in a way that is concise, engaging and illuminating.

“Why should people give me money to do this research?” That was the provocative question Byrley asked himself in preparing a three-minute talk about his work, which could dramatically expand the power of electronics.

Peter Byrley delivers his presentation, "Renewable nanopower: the new age of earth abundant electronics." Photo by Robert Durell

Peter Byrley delivers his presentation, “Renewable nanopower: the new age of earth abundant electronics.”
Photo by Robert Durell

The answer: Two-dimensional graphene is versatile, flexible and just a tenth of the size of silicon. And best of all, it is one of the most abundant materials on earth. That means manufacturers can pack more power into a smaller package – reaping savings in both money and efficiency.

“Imagine you’re running a company and it takes 10 people to do a job. These are generally unproductive, unhappy people. That’s your silicon-based model,“ Byrley explained. “Instead, now you only need one employee to do the job. He’s 10 times more productive and he actually wants to be paid less. That’s the graphene model.”

Grad Slam, now in its second year, challenges master’s and Ph.D. students to break down the topic of their research and explain it in three minutes or less, in terms a general audience can understand.

The aim: give UC’s emerging researchers and scholars the tools to communicate their work to a wider audience. Students from every campus participated – roughly 500 graduate students in all – enrolling in public speaking workshops and competing at individual campus contests.

Each campus winner then competed for the top prize – which included campus bragging rights and a $6,000 award. Byrley plans to put his winnings toward getting a LEED certificate and going to conferences to further his research.

To deliver the winning presentation, Byrley had to learn to strip away the technical jargon and complex details that are a graduate student’s stock-in-trade.

“I realized I had to connect the work to what people actually care about,” he said. Byrley, who participated in UC Riverside’s inaugural Grad Slam contest last year, used that experience to prepare this time around.

“That time, I showed a picture of a molecular structure, and it’s hard for an audience to get excited about that.” He was eliminated after the first round.

This time, he focused on how scientists are looking to use the technology for applications that include more efficient solar panels, the next age of space exploration, and biomedical devices to monitor blood sugar, which could protect the lives of 400 million people worldwide who suffer from diabetes.

Mind-boggling research made accessible

The event, held April 22 at LinkedIn’s newly opened San Francisco headquarters, was the culmination not only of months of preparation for the contestants, but of two months of qualifying rounds and campus competitions.

Peter Byrley smiles on his way to winning the 2016 UC Grad Slam. Photo by Robert Durell

Peter Byrley smiles on his way to winning the 2016 UC Grad Slam. Photo by Robert Durell

First-place winners from each campus faced off before an audience of more than 200 representatives from industry, government and higher education.

The students wowed the audience with a window into mind-bending research that explored secrets of our psychology, our brains, and far-flung corners of the universe.

Best of all, they showed that you don’t have to be an expert in astrophysics or cell biology to appreciate the impact of academic research.

“The competitors today are all engaged, in one way or another, in exploration of uncharted territory,” said UC President Janet Napolitano, who served as the event emcee. “Grad Slam gives them the resources they need to share the knowledge they gain in that exploration with the rest of us.”

Read the full story here: http://universityofcalifornia.edu/news/students-graphene-research-cinches-2016-grad-slam-win

2016 UC Grad Slam Winners

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