Imagine summarizing months or years' worth of research into an unscripted yet comprehensible 90-second talk, armed with only one prop, in front of a live audience and a panel of judges. 

This will be the challenge for 28 Virginia Tech graduate students representing a myriad of research interests and seven colleges during the ninth edition of the Nutshell Games on Nov. 11 at 4:30 p.m. at the Moss Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public. 

“The Nutshell Games are an opportunity for students to share their research with their local community, along with anyone else,” said Carrie Kroehler, associate director of the Center for Communicating Science. “I love that the audience is always super supportive and cheering on all the students who are clearly stepping outside of their comfort zones through doing this.” 

The event’s topics will range from Virginia's rarest turtle and the evolution of the Black travel market to underground salt mines, traumatic brain injuries, and plenty more, all within an hour. A panel of seven judges from the university and the larger Blacksburg community will assess the presentations and award five winners, who will each receive a $500 scholarship. Additionally, all Nutshell Game presenters will receive a participation certificate and a professional video recording of their talk.   

Intending to assist student researchers in communicating their work effectively to a broader audience by dropping their research-field jargon and using clear, concise, and easily understandable language, Patty Raun, the director of the Center for Communicating Science, along with Kroehler, created the Nutshell Games in 2017. It’s since become one of the center’s hallmark events, highlighting the type of nontraditional learning opportunities the center provides for graduate students and others by using theatrical tools and strategies to teach researchers to communicate in more personal, spontaneous, and emotionally vivid ways.  

“Our mission is to create and support opportunities for scientists, scholars, health professionals, and community partners to develop their abilities to communicate and connect across differences using art tools and practices,” said Raun, who is also a professor in the School of Performing Arts. "Each of us is a complex and exquisitely multifaceted individual, and though valuable, traditional Western education — focused on learning facts that can be shaped into academic theories and logic models — risks diminishing our expansive relational capacities. The Nutshell Games help us connect across differences and develop our relational abilities, all while inspiring curiosity."  

The Nutshell Games will close out a day of celebrating science, as part of this year’s Virginia Tech Science Festival on Nov. 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The festival, held annually since 2014, is an expo-style, family-friendly event that includes hands-on activities, engaging demonstrations, and the opportunity for attendees to talk one-on-one with practicing scientists at about 100 exhibits. Admission to all events is free and open to the public.  

Participants in the spring 2023 Nutshell Games. Photo by Alexandra Freeze for Virginia Tech.

The judges for the ninth Nutshell Games include the following university and community members:

The following are the graduate student presenters:

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • Abdulhadi Kobiowu, genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology, “Biting Back with Genetics: Disarming the Yellow Fever Mosquito” 
  • Logan Layne, agricultural and Extension education “AI for Educational Equity” 
  • Jitender Rathore, plant and environmental sciences, “No Farm, No Grain! Predicting Crop Maturity and Harvest Time Using Satellite Imagery” 
  • Eli Russell, plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, “Turning the Combine from a Weed Seed Spreader into a Weed Seed Predator, Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science” 
  • Amolpreet Kaur Saini, plant and environmental sciences, “Guardians of the Fruit: How Rootstocks Shield Against the Cold” 

Pamplin College of Business

  • Charis N. Tucker, hospitality and tourism management, “From the Green Book to the "Gram": Exploring the Evolution of the Black Travel Market” 

College of Engineering

  • Kiymet Akdemir, computer science and applications, “Fairness in Generative AI Models” 
  • Martha Gizaw, biomedical engineering and mechanics, “Check Your Snooze Before You Cruise, Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics” 
  • Wendell Grinton Jr., construction engineering and management, “Better Communicating Information about Civil Infrastructure to the Public” 
  • Shawal Khalid, computer science, “On the Road Again: Blockchain-oriented Software Engineering” 
  • Nicole Stark, biomedical engineering and mechanics, “The Rising Crisis of Head Injuries at Care Facilities” 

College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

  • Helen Ajao, instructional design and technology, “Crafting Daily Excellence: Unveiling Routine Mastery in Instructional Design” 
  • Sean Pierre Chambers, alliance for social, political, ethical and cultural thought, “Blessings Under Maafa's Shadow: The Sociology and Ethics of Friendship among Black Baptist Men” 
  • Ashley Costello, higher education, “Lions, Pandas, and Lemurs. Oh My … (Trauma in Higher Education)” 
  • Aline de Souza, alliance for social, political, ethical, and cultural thought, “The Potential of Artistic Work to Disrupt Anti-immigration Discourses” 
  • Chris Heasley, counselor education and supervision, “Supporting Rural Students: Why Rural Matters” 

College of Natural Resources and Environment

  • Gabriel Borba, fish and wildlife conservation, “Effects of Climate Change in Fisheries” 
  • Lisley Gomes, fish and wildlife conservation, “Rethinking Wildlife Use in the Urbanizing Amazonia” 
  • Connor Hughes, fish and wildlife conservation, “Finding Virginia's Rarest Turtle” 
  • Emily Sinkular, fish and wildlife conservation, “Wildlife for Everybody and Every Body” 

College of Science

  • Abdeali Jivaji, biological sciences, “Giant Viruses: Larger Than Life” 
  • Celina Meyer, developmental science, “Household Chaos and Socioemotional Development” 
  • Caitlin Miller, biological sciences, “Evolutionary Challenges and Opportunities When Moving into New Areas” 
  • Rose McGroarty, geophysics, “Watch for Falling Rocks! How We Can See Where Rocks WILL Fall in Underground Salt Mines” 
  • Ross Spoon, economics, “GameStop in the Lab” 
  • Nandini Das, economics, “From Pests to Prosperity: Incentive-driven pest management for farmers”

Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

  • Md. Shakhawat Hossain, biomedical sciences and pathobiology, “One Shield for Multiple Enemies” 

Interdisciplinary studies

The Center for Communicating Science is supported by the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment; Fralin Life Sciences Institute; as well as the Graduate School; the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design; and the School of Performing Arts

Written by Becca Halm