Grad students run the show at Screech 2015

Grad students run the show at Screech 2015


With show-biz polish and tweet-like concision, 26 Rice University engineering graduate students pitched their research in 90-second bursts Oct. 29 to a crowd of some 200 at the fourth annual Screech Competition, sponsored by the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL).

Sydney Gibson, a third-year graduate student in the Department of Bioengineering (BIOE), took first place and received the top prize of $500 in the highly competitive event. Her pitch was titled “Road to Invasion: Understanding Blood Vessel Formation in Cancer.” Gibson also received the “audience choice award” and an additional $150. Her adviser is Mary Dickinson, a molecular physiologist at Baylor College of Medicine and adjunct professor of bioengineering at Rice.

Sydney Gibson

Bioengineering graduate student Sydney Gibson took first place Oct. 29 at the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership's fourth annual Screech Competition. Credit: D. Soward/Rice University

Students from eight departments were represented. BIOE, with seven students, had the largest representation and was named best department in the overall competition.

Anastasia Novinskaya, a third-year graduate student in the Department of Computer Science (CS), opened the Screech. “You must be in love with your research to compete in the Screech,” she said. “These people have already won their small personal battles.”

Other winners and their prizes were:

  • Second place: Julia Vidonish, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), “Changing the Way We Clean Oil Spills,” $300.
  • Third place: Marco Rodrigues, Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering (MSNE), “Batteries on Fire!” $150.
  • Best in BIOE/Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering: Jennifer Burnett, BIOE, “Using In Vivo Microscopy to Detect Malaria Infection,” $150.
  • Best in Computational and Applied Mathematics/CS/Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE): Mahdi Assefzadeh, ECE, “One-Square-Inch, Fast Millimeter-Wave/Terahertz Cameras: No More Airport Lines, With Maximum Security Ensured”; and David Ramirez, ECE, “Service-Centric Networks: The End of Video Buffering,” $150 each.
  • Best in Mechanical Engineering/MSNE/CEE: Peng (Patrick) Sun, CEE, “Smart Skin for Structures,” $150.

“The whole show was run by the graduate students,” said Kaz Karwowski, executive director of RCEL and one of the judges for this year’s competition. “We paid the bills and they did all the work.”

The other judges were:

  • Kyung-Hee Bae, associate director of Rice’s Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication.
  • Michael Evans, lecturer in management, Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.
  • Elizabeth Festa, associate director of the Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication.
  • Jeffrey Jacot, associate professor of BIOE.
  • Kiri Kilpatrick, associate director for graduate student development.
  • Tom Kraft, director of technology ventures development for the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.
  • Amit Pazgal, professor of management and marketing in the Jones School.
  • Isabell Thomann, assistant professor of ECE.
  • Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering.
  • David Van Kleeck, professor in the practice of engineering leadership, RCEL.
  • Sherry Vanderslice, graduate student affairs and projects manager.

Screech 2015 sponsors included BHP Billiton; ExxonMobil; Rice Engineering Alumni; Rice’s Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication; RCEL; Chuck Newell and Hanadi Rifai; and Rick and Cheryl Mifflin.

To watch Screech 2015, visit:

To watch previous Screeches, visit:

— Patrick Kurp is a science writer in the George R. Brown School of Engineering.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.