Mallory Hinks
Doctoral student Mallory Hinks gave Grad Slam judges an engaging and easily understood three-minute synopsis of her research. Brody Albert

How to deliver a three-minute, listener-friendly stump speech on aerosols’ effects on climate change: That’s the challenge that Mallory Hinks faced.

Representing the University of California, Irvine, the doctoral student in atmospheric chemistry came in second Friday, April 22, at the Grad Slam finals in San Francisco. She was up against nine winners from other UC campuses in a competition that showcased graduate students’ research and their poise and confidence in talking about their work to people outside the confines of their labs.

“It’s important for graduate students to be able to explain their research to the general public in ways that are easy to understand,” says Frances Leslie, vice provost for graduate education, dean of the Graduate Division and host of the UCI contest. “And it’s also critical for the taxpayers of California to see the benefits of their support of graduate education.”

Hinks received $2,500 for besting seven other Anteaters in the April 1 campus finals.

UCI’s Ashley Fong won the inaugural UC-wide competition last year with her description of how stem cells can mend a broken heart, so Hinks had a tough act to follow. She employed a little MAGIC in her cause. Her own invention ­– Mallory’s Aerosol-Generating Irradiation Chamber – creates aerosols in the laboratory, making them easier to study.

“Brown aerosols in the atmosphere can change to white when they are exposed to sunlight,” she says. “This means that they can go from a warming effect on climate to a cooling effect. So if we want to fully understand how these aerosols can contribute to climate change, we need to know how quickly they change color. I have found that the color change occurs faster at warmer temperatures and slower at colder temperatures. This implies that brown aerosols in colder parts of the atmosphere will stay brown for longer and potentially contribute a warming effect on the climate for a longer period of time.

“Understanding the facets of climate change is like figuring out pieces of a puzzle,” she says. “Each piece is significant.”

Interested in science since elementary school (“Marie Curie was my inspiration”), Hinks hopes to eventually help set science policy on climate change issues. The skills and discipline she developed in preparation for Friday’s event – simplifying facts and theories and making a connection with the audience – will undoubtedly smooth her course.

“Sometimes you have only a few minutes to make your point,” Hinks says, “so you must do it well.”

The finals were held at the LinkedIn headquarters in San Francisco and livestreamed on the Grad Slam website, where competition details and participant bios can also be found. First place went to Peter Byrley of UC Riverside, and third place went to Gary Li of UCLA. Winners shared $10,000 in prize money.