You’ve heard of poetry slams; how about Grad Slams?

Ph.D. candidate Devjoy Dev explains his complex research on the connection between sleep and the gut — in under three minutes

Devjoy receiving an award on stage

Ph.D. candidate Devjoy Dev earned the People’s Choice Award for his talk about his research

Any layperson who has ever tried reading a piece in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal can attest: the topics are complex, and the language can seem impenetrable. Yet, researchers are often called upon to explain their work to those outside their fields for a variety of important reasons: to maximize its impact, inform policy-making, or obtain funding, to name just a few.

In an attempt to help its graduate students and postdocs hone their public-speaking skills and develop the ability to convey their research to nonspecialists, this semester NYU Abu Dhabi kicked off GradSlam, an event that gave participants the opportunity to present their work to a general audience. There was a catch, though: each presentation had to be under just three minutes long.

Devjoy Dev, a doctoral student who is advised by Khalil Ramadi — Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at NYU Tandon and the Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Neuroengineering and Translational Medicine at NYU Abu Dhabi — took home the People’s Choice Award for his talk, “A Gut Feeling: Improving Astronaut Sleep with an Electric Pill.”

Devjoy Dev standing in front of a step and repeat
Devjoy Dev

Work being done in Ramadi’s lab attracted widespread attention earlier this year, when news hit that a new electrical “pill” co-developed by him and his colleagues may be able to regulate people’s appetites without any drugs or invasive medical procedures. Similarly, Dev’s work also involves the neural pathway known as the gut-brain axis, which regulates many bodily functions, including eating and, as Dev pointed out, sleeping.

Dev, who had taken workshops in the foundations of communication and crafting a compelling narrative in the lead-up to the event, grabbed the audience’s attention immediately when he asserted that while humans are the only species on the planet that purposely deprives itself of rest, adequate sleep is directly connected to longevity. “Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity that we cannot afford to underestimate,” he explains. The device he is developing would be swallowed and sent into the gut where it would stimulate the millions of neurons there and may be able to modulate sleep in a way never before done. 

Dev, who serves as lead of the Sleep Medicine Working Group at the International Centre for Astronautical Development (ICAD), is focusing his initial research on astronauts, who are now spending increasingly long periods in space and for whom feeling alert and rested is a literal matter of life and death, but he foresees it ultimately reaching the general public. “Even though the vast majority of us will never orbit the Earth,” he says, “we all want to get a good night’s sleep.”

Learn about his role in TEDx; and find out about his compelling side project, Humans of the Sky.