Researchfest champ wins crowd with superb spoken word soliloquy

6 Jul 2017

PhD researcher Joshua Chao during his three-minute presentation at Researchfest. Image: Conor McCabe Photograpy

The judges and Inspirefest audience have spoken, and NUI Galway researcher Joshua Chao has been crowned Researchfest champion 2017.

The results are in and both judges and audience have named their Researchfest 2017 champion. Joshua Chao, a researcher at REMEDI, the Regenerative Medicine Institute based at NUI Galway, took the top prize following a stellar spoken-word presentation.

With just three minutes and no slides to present a PhD research subject, Researchfest challenges competing researchers to think on their feet and step out of the box to create an engaging and informative presentation. Chao did so with aplomb, describing in detail the rationale, research and potential impact of his work in 180 seconds’ time, all in rhyme.

When asked about his unique presentation style, Chao explained that he was inspired by Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical that brings hip hop and history together in the theatre. While listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, Chao found a way to apply this cultural interest to his scientific studies and the result was a memorable moment for the Researchfest audience.

Winning research

Researchfest returned to the Inspirefest festival of science and technology for its second year, taking place on a newly added second stage at the main conference event.

The competition invites PhD researchers to impress a panel of judges (and an international audience) by communicating complicated research studies in plain English. Each of the finalists received preliminary coaching from SNP Communications, resulting in a strong selection and a tough decision for the judges: SNP co-founder Maureen Taylor, Prof Christine Loscher from Dublin City University, Dr Aphra Kerr from Maynooth University and Giovanni Frazzetto, a research fellow at Trinity College Dublin.

Maynooth University’s Dylan Colbert presented his PhD thesis on relational skills interventions and human intelligence, complete with ‘tattooed’ arms to make his point. Daragh Bradshaw, a social psychologist based in University of Limerick, summarised his research on how imprisonment affects families, which has been submitted to the Department of Justice to inform future policy.

Dublin City University’s Orla Lehane discussed research into social media and online culture in the context of combating extremist content, while Bhagya Rekha Jonnala, a second-year PhD student working with Teagasc, explained why we sometimes see pink discoloration in cheese.

Engineering PhD student Bárbara Oliveira (NUI Galway) described a new method of breast cancer screening using imaging based on radar waves. And Alberto Román Corrochano explained how he moved from Spain to Ireland – specifically, the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Fermoy, Co Cork – to learn more about what happens to our organs when they meet with elements of our food, such as whey proteins.

But it was ultimately Chao who was won the judges’ hearts and minds – and 35pc of the audience vote – walking away with a goodie bag of prizes including a tablet computer, portable charger and special-edition illustrated print by Annie West. Chao will also be featured in a profile on, so watch this space.

His research looks at how stem cells can be used as an effective therapy for critical limb ischemia (CLI), where blockages in the arteries limit blood flow to extremities, such as the hands and feet, and cause severe pain. CLI is a debilitating condition that comes with an exceptionally high risk of cardiovascular events and, while surgical bypass is sometimes an option, some patients face amputation as the only solution.

Chao is seeking an alternative treatment using stem cells extracted from bone marrow. By injecting these stem cells directly into the muscle, he hopes to see them create new blood vessels through a process called angiogenesis.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.