It was a competition that had the judges scratching their heads and commenting repeatedly how high the standard was and how tough the final call was going to be. In the end, the two contestants chosen to go through to the national finals of FameLab were not the only winners.
“Everybody was so good. You are all winners,” the judges said, announcing the results of the 2017 Gauteng regional heat of FameLab, held at Unisa on 3 March as part of Research & Innovation Week.
FameLab is an international science communication competition where young researchers each have just three minutes to impress the judges with their novel, engaging approach to research.
“I am so happy. Now I can confidently present at conferences,” said Fulupelo Mudau, winner of the regional heat and a PhD student of nanotechnology at the Science Campus. Her chosen topic at FameLab was her research on membrane technology for purifying polluted or contaminated water.
“I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s great to get up and talk about science, especially to a receptive audience like this,” said competition runner-up Darryl Herron, a PhD student in plant pathology at the University of Pretoria’s microbiology department. His topic for the day was a deadly fungus that has been killing pine trees across South Africa.
Other contestants spoke about subjects such as how to cure stomach acidity, the use of mobile apps in farming, the treatment of depression, disposal of human waste in rural areas, and the use of a simple chemical reaction to deal with water pollution resulting from the dyeing of fabric.
The regional heat took place in two rounds, both held on the same day. The judges were Mthuthuzeli Zamxaka of the South African Agency for Technology Advancement (SAASTA), Robert Inglis of Jive Media Africa, and Professor Ndikho Mtshiselwa of Unisa’s College of Human Sciences. The programme director was 2014 FameLab winner Raven Motsawebangwe.
Of the 16 students who competed in the first round, 10 were selected for the second round of talks. The two winners, Mudau and Herron, will now go through to the South African national finals, where the winner will represent South Africa at the 2017 International FameLab finals in the United Kingdom.
In South Africa, FameLab is a collaboration between Jive Media, a leading science communication agency; SAASTA; and the British Council in South Africa.
“FameLab makes a difference by awakening researchers to some of the realities of talking about their research. Engaging with communities, learners, the media or potential partners is very different from engaging with other researchers in your discipline,” said Robert Inglis of Jive Media. “It’s crucial to interact with people outside your discipline—people who don’t necessarily care about your science as you do.”
Asked what qualities a good science communicator needs, he said: “Context, clarity and charisma.”
All three Cs were clearly in evidence at the Unisa leg of FameLab. Now they need to be carried through to the national finals and, hopefully, the world.
By Clairwyn van der Merwe