Three minute thesis winner unravels maths mysteries

A Victoria University student from Maribyrnong has explained her highly complex PhD in pure mathematics to a mainstream audience to win the $2000 grand prize in the University's inaugural three-minute thesis contest.

Eder Kikianty, 26, beat 13 other VU finalists in the competition, hosted by the University's Office for Postgraduate Research. The contest invited doctoral candidates to present a compelling and clear oration on their thesis topic to a non-specialist audience in less than three minutes.

Eder explained her research in mathematical inequality and the geometry of mathematical objects known as Banach Spaces by referring to the way a Manhattan taxi driver travels around city blocks, and comparing that to how a ghost could go through buildings to find the shortest path.        

The clarity and engaging nature of her presentation won Eder the $2000 first prize. She also picked up the people's choice award as voted by members of the 300-strong audience.

Eder will join winners from other universities at the University of Queensland in late September for a shot at a $5000 first prize in the Australian and New Zealand three-minute thesis finals.

Since coming to VU on a research scholarship in 2006 from her home of Sumatra, Indonesia, Eder has joined the ranks of a handful of mathematical inequality specialists in Australia. Many work at Victoria University, including her research supervisor Professor Sever Dragomir and associate supervisor Professor Pietro Cerone. 

Eder, who tutors in maths at Deakin University and the University of Melbourne in her spare time, attributes her life-long interest in maths and physics to her mother, a mathematics teacher.

"My mother used to sit with me and give me different ways of thinking about numbers and the more I learned, the more I want to learn," she said.

She said the contest forced her to think about the essence of her research and its applications.

"It's often difficult to explain to people what I spend all my time doing, but this contest has helped me clarify that in my own mind."

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