Adarsh Suresh came to the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago in 2018 to work on alleviating global water stress. He also joined an improv team at the Revival in Hyde Park.
Both of these passions later came together in a somewhat surprising way.
In May, the graduate student competed in UChicago’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. Inspired by his students and his improv team, he compressed years of research into a compelling three-minute presentation—and took first place among 13 entrants. He won $1,000.
The 3MT competition, which UChicagoGRAD brought to UChicago in 2018, is an ideal forum for sharing research with global impact potential because the presentations are aimed at a non-specialist audience. Students get the chance to hone their academic, presentation and research communication skills with a presentation limited to three minutes and a single slide.
Since 2021, 3MT at UChicago has been a collaboration between UChicagoGRAD and Alumni Relations and Development, and the competitions have attracted a broad audience of alumni, students of all disciplines, family, staff, postdocs, faculty, journalists and friends.
Suresh’s presentation was all about challenging the notions of where strength comes from.
‘Why didn’t this thing break?’
He stepped into inspiration in the lab.
“I was working in a lab that makes polymers and electrodes for water purification. One day, purely serendipitously, I stepped on my electrode, and realized that it was actually quite strong because it didn't break, even though it’s a very porous, fragile model. And then I thought, ‘Oh, wait a minute! Why didn't this thing break?’ I stepped on it again, and it still didn't break. I’m thinking, ‘This is super interesting.’”
Suresh found himself questioning a universal law of materials that metals are strong and dense and foams are light and weak. Looking to natural materials, he observed the combination of strength and lightness all around: bone, wood, bamboo and honeycomb are remarkably light for how strong they are, and vice versa.
He became interested in the challenging the trade-offs of materials, determined to develop a material with an intricate architecture of differently sized pores. “It doesn’t sound like lighter and stronger go together, but I say that it’s possible because nature has been doing it.”