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The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is a competition where students present their graduate thesis work in three minutes. The competition, done as part of University Research week, celebrates doctoral or master’s research and is meant to cultivate presentation and research communication with non-specialist audiences. This year, Mackenna Wood earned the top prize, which includes $1000 and the opportunity to represent UNC at the national 3MT competition in 2023.

Wood’s research, conducted as part of Andrew Mann’s lab, focuses on measuring the ages of stars. To understand the prospects for life elsewhere in the universe, we must understand the changes planets undergo over millions or billions of years. However, these timescales are too long to wait for planets to evolve in real time. Instead, Wood focuses on planets in stellar associations: groups of stars that all formed at the same time. By assigning ages to these groups and the planets within them, Wood can build up a set of ‘snapshots’ of planets at different stages of change.

Most recently, Mackenna led the discovery and age-dating of a new association, MELANGE-4, finding that the group is 27 million years old and contains 6 planets (two of which she discovered) and represents an exciting new environment to study the evolution of stars and planets.

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