Hannah James: You are where you eat

Hannah James’ presentation at the ANU 2015 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition is guaranteed to make you reconsider what you had for lunch, but in a good way.

According to tooth sleuth and PhD student Hannah James, from the Research School of Earth Sciences, we are what we eat. Or at least, what we eat is likely to leave behind clues that future archaeologists could use to determine where we have been.  

“I look for human migration by comparing the chemistry of human teeth to soils and plants in the environment to see where people were living in the past,” Hannah explains.

You would be right in thinking that Hannah’s research, which involves analysing chemical isotopes from ancient human remains to develop a map of past human migrations, is a seriously complex.

But when explaining her PhD to people Hannah feels “lucky” because she doesn’t need to do anything to make her research interesting.

“Everyone has teeth and people find archaeology inherently fascinating,” she says.  

Even so, Hannah has learnt a lot from summing her PhD thesis up into three minutes and competing at the College 3MT heat.

“It was a great experience, not only presenting but also listening to all the other fascinating PhD topics in the science colleges. I felt nervous, but well prepared.

“Competing in the 3MT competition has made me sit down and think about what my research is and what is the aim and overall purpose of the research.”

This friendly competition has also helped Hannah gain some new communication skills that will come in handy if she fulfills her plans to stay in research after her PhD.

“It’s definitely important for all researchers, not just scientists, to be able to communicate their research. Not only because research is often funded by the public, but what’s the point if nobody knows what you are doing?”

You can read more about Hannah's 3 Minutes of Terror in her blog post for OnCirculation