Published: Feb. 2, 2024

The 2024 Three Minute Thesis final competition will be held Feb. 7, from 4 to 6 p.m.

What is the best way to distill a multitude of information into just three minutes?

That’s the question ten graduate students will be wrestling with as part of the Graduate School’s seventh annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, which will be held in the University Memorial Center’s Glenn Miller Ballroom on Feb. 7, 2024, from 4 to 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

This event challenges students to explain their thesis to the general public. They are then evaluated by a panel of judges from across the university, including College of Arts and Sciences Dean Glen Krutz, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Associate Dean Charles Musgraves, Professor of Sociology Lori Hunter, and Physics Professor and Nobel Laureate Eric Cornell.

In the days leading up to the event, we’ll be featuring each of the competitors. Today’s is Spencer Zeigler, a geological sciences doctoral candidate who focuses on geochronology (the science of age dating earth materials, like rocks, minerals, fossils, and geologic events) and thermochronology (the study of the thermal evolution of a region of a planet). Her 3MT presentation’s title is, “The Missing Pages of Earth History.”

Spencer Zeigler

Spencer Zeigler

If you had to describe your research in one sentence, what would you say?

I use radioactive decay to try and figure out when, how, and why the northern Canadian landscape has changed over the past 600 million years.

What is your favorite thing about the research you do?

My favorite thing about my research is a process called "mineral separation." I start with an armful of rock and turn that into just a pinch of sand-sized material which should be entirely composed of 1 mineral—apatite. It is physical work that includes sledgehammers, magnets, and liquids that are 4x denser than water! The best part is that you get to see your progress at the end of the day.

What led you to pursue your doctoral degree in your field of study?

My advisor (Becky Flowers), who I was doing research for during my 'gap year', knew that I've got a huge weakness for volcanoes—the weirder the better. So, she offered me a position working on the strangest volcanoes in the whole world—kimberlites. I loved working in her lab and with her, so I decided to stay. In addition to studying awesome volcanoes, I'm essentially getting a PhD in time travel; I get to look back hundreds of millions of years into the past and tell a story about why a place looks the way it does today.

What are your hobbies/what do you enjoy doing outside of your academic work?

I am a public transit/safer streets/bike/pedestrian advocate. I work closely with Safer Streets, Better Broomfield, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to make our streets better and safer for everyone. In that same vein, I enjoy commuting to campus by bike—but I really love doing Costco runs on my bike. :) I also enjoy knitting scarves, listening to podcasts, doing jigsaw puzzles, playing cornhole (where's the CU Boulder league?!) and gluten free baking.

What is your favorite food and why?

Sweet potato. So versatile! So healthy! You can mash, twice-bake, roast, make French fries, hash browns, YUM! Also, they are just pretty. Always adds a nice pop of color to a plate.