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48-hour Sci-athon offers interdisciplinary student collaboration

Slamowitz’ team presenting at the 2022 Sci-athon competition in front of fellow competitors and industry panel
Graduate students and postdocs will convene May 24-26 for Sci-athon, a 48-hour competition in which students develop and pitch solutions for a global challenge. Participants represent a diverse range of STEM disciplines at UNC including applied physical sciences (APS) and chemistry.

Students work collaboratively in small teams to address a problem focused on a specific challenge. Connor Slamowitz, a third-year materials science graduate student in Professor Scott Warren’s lab, explains that the theme for 2023 is upcycling. “We are tasked with creating a solution to turn trash into something sustainable,” he says.

Throughout the two-day Sci-athon, participants engage in various activities such as brainstorming sessions and networking opportunities with a career panel of industry scientists and local STEM professionals. At the end of the event, each team presents their proposal to the panel that determines an event winner.

Teams work in the Kenan Library for Sci-athon 2019.
Abby Knight, assistant professor in the UNC department of chemistry, has organized Sci-athon since its inception in 2019. “Sci-athon welcomes interdisciplinary participants in a competitive yet supportive environment,” Knight says. “We strive to promote scientific learning while including an element of professional development for all participants.”

Evidence demonstrates the value of teamwork and communication skills for post-graduate careers,” Knight agrees. “It is rewarding to see students work collaboratively with people they may have just met to share in the accomplishment of generating an idea in a short time.”

In addition to participating in this year’s Sci-athon, Slamowitz is performing marketing, recruiting, and outreach efforts to spread awareness. “I’m working to promote this year’s Sci-athon and ultimately get more students involved,” he says, noting the value of participating and exploring different aspects of STEM. “Graduate school gives you the platform to learn technical skills, but hands-on learning experiences like Sci-athon that are geared toward collaboration and networking provide valuable insight into career paths,” he adds.

The 2020 virtual Sci-athon welcomed participants from UNC, Duke, NC-State, and North Carolina Central University
Slamowitz previously participated in Sci-athon in summer 2022 which convened in-person after the event was held virtually in 2021. He and his team designed and pitched a polymer-based wallpaper that could absorb water from air, offering a wide range of uses including water reclamation in arid climates and household dehumidification.
“Collaborating with a team of other dedicated students to formulate a solution in a stimulating environment has been a highlight of graduate school for me,” Slamowitz says. “I frequently work alone in other aspects of graduate work, so this opportunity to work on a team is extremely satisfying.”

Slamowitz concludes with an invitation for his peers to participate. “Between collaboration, teamwork, communication, networking, and presentation skills, Sci-athon combines everything you could ask for in one 48-hour event,” he says. “This truly is a great opportunity to strengthen professional skills while tackling a real-world problem.”

Register and learn more here.