Western University's 2018 Three Minute Thesis Winner

Image of Western Science's 3MT competitors, including Tianqi

Western Science's 3MT finalist, Tianqi Xie is second from the right.

Tianqi Xie, Western University’s 2018 winner of the campus-wide Three Minute Thesis Competition, is on a journey to unlock the secrets of the Moon. Through her research, she dives into the explosive history that shaped our closest neighbor, trying to understand how it’s surface evolved over billions of years.

We’ve all seen a full Moon on a clear night, some of us might have even been fortunate enough to catch the “Super Moon” this past year, but if you’ve ever looked at a snapshot of the Moon you will see thousands of circular, bowl-shaped features covering the surface. They can range from a few meters to hundreds of kilometers wide. Called impact craters, these geologic landmarks are formed by the collision of material whipping around in space at kilometer per second speeds, often ten times the speed of most bullets.

When rocks collide at these speeds, a catastrophic explosion results. The impactor is vaporized in seconds and the bodies that have been hit are fundamentally changed. When these collisions unfold on the Moon, solid rock is instantly turned into liquid, molten material. Even more material is displaced, ejected, and thrown across the surface. The energy of the impact unleashes a shockwave several times greater than those experienced during the nuclear testing of the Cold War. It is how this shockwave travels through solid material that Tianqi is most interested.

The analytical system Tianqi uses to do her research is called Raman spectroscopy. This non-destructive technique is commonly used to identify organic and inorganic material in geologic samples. In NASA's upcoming Mars 2020 mission, a Raman spectrometer will be used to try and find evidence for life on the Martian surface.

Tianqi is one of the few people in Canada who gets to hold pieces of the Moon and explore its crystalline structure by shooting lasers at them. By looking characteristic pattern returned from this shocked lunar material, Tianqi examines how the structure of the material has changed, what pressures the material experienced, and how proximal was the material from ground zero of the impact. In doing so, she hopes that we can better understand this geologic process, which has shaped every planetary body in our Solar System.

After finishing her BSc and MSc in Beijing, she became part of the Western Science community in the fall of 2014 as she started her PhD. Whether it's catching a new play or her Flamenco lesson, she has found time to take in the rich culture around her. Tianqi has loved her time in Canada. She hopes to pursue an academic career here in Canada, but she is certainly open to exploring and discovering new destinations as her career takes off.

Check out photos from the 2018 3MT Provincial competition.

The Three Minute Thesis Competition

The 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) competition asks graduate students to present the breadth and significance of their thesis in 1 slide and 3 minutes to do just that to a non-specialist audience. This fun and challenging academic competition gives Western Science graduate students the opportunity to improve their communication skills while potentially winning a first place prize of $1000. 

The 3MT Competition was originally developed by The University of Queensland, Australia, but since then, it has become a truly international phenomenon with global competitions held each year. The exercise develops the ability to effectively communicate complex research using open language, allowing you to explain the significance of your research to your peers and the wider community.