“Your research sounds complicated... Excuse me as I proceed to tune out.” Enough with this reaction to science and scientists! FameLab is here to prove—in three minutes or less—that not only is science fascinating, but scientists are capable of sharing their passion for it. Knowing that researchers like a good challenge, participants in this science communication competition are faced with an intimidating time limit. The national final for France is tomorrow night, at the University of Paris Diderot. Take a look at the finalists and the subjects they’ve already managed to cover in less time than it will take you to read this.
Science is full of complex concepts, sure. But complex is not a synonym of inaccessible.There are some scientists who would wager they can explain their work to you and not only make you understand, but make you laugh and reveal a new part of the world to you—all in three minutes. These ambitious souls are participants of FameLab, an international competition for young researchers bringing their science to the general public.
Launched in 2005 at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival, the event went global with the help of the British Council and has now seen more than 5,000 scientists and engineers from over 20 countries pass through its ranks. There aren’t many rules dictating the form of a FameLab presentation, apart from the 3Cs: competitors are judged on content, clarity, and charisma.
Following a masterclass in science communication held at CERN for the regional winners, the French final will take place tomorrow night: ten talented finalists, ten cool topics, three minutes each. Meet the young researchers who will compete to represent their country at the international final, and get a taste of the interesting, funny, imaginative or passionate presentations that earned them a spot.
Marine Bittel, a biological engineer who started her doctoral studies this year at the University of Nantes, did not look like a beginner as she presented her work on the detection of micropollutants using bacterial biosensors and Raman spectroscopy. Ramen? Like the soup? Well, no. Let Marine put that another way, with the help of a pear and one of those fun thingies with all the little pins that you may have tried mashing your face into, to see your profile in metallic bas-relief.
David Davila is a PhD student with a group at Paris Descartes University studying brain cell interactions and their implications for disease and basic functions like sleep and memory. David brought a friendly, Californian flavor to his presentation on “Neglect and Psychiatric Disorder in Children”. It doesn’t sound like a joyful subject, but David’s delight at sharing his research subject was captivating. Not to mention his delight at winning the public’s choice award at the Paris final.
Belén Jimenez-Mena, along with her stuffed polar bear and an alleged sack of 10,000€, greeted the audience with an awful dilemma: “Imagine you could only save one species of animal, only ONE. How to choose?” Luckily, the third-year PhD candidate at AgroParisTech and Aarhus University in Denmark went on to explain how conservation genetics holds the key, as she went on to win the top prize in Paris, too.
Jorge Mondéjar put a much less agonizing task before the public assembled at the University of Paris Diderot in March: consider your hands. They are an “architectural marvel of evolution”, says the post-doctoral researcher at France’s National Museum of Natural History, although he may be more used to looking at significantly older, more fossilized “hands” in his work as a paleontologist.
Nicolas Taccoen, it seems, had been enjoying a stroll in a Parisian park the day before the FameLab regional final. The ducks, no doubt, had brought him there: the doctoral candidate in the Hydrodynamics Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique explained the extreme water-repellant qualities of waterfowl feathers and the industrial applications that mimicking those traits could have. With no duck at the ready to demonstrate, Nicolas settled for a feather to treat spectators to a live experiment in hydrodynamics.
Manuel Lasalle, who will represent France’s northern climes at the FameLab national final, is a basketball-loving, paragliding musician, who also happens to be pursuing his PhD in therapeutic chemistry. He explained to the audience gathered in Lille on March 8 what exactly happens in your body when you eat a meal, in his three-minute talk called “Diabetes and Digestion”.
Noushine Keller, who took home both the judges’ and the public’s top prize at the regional final for the south of France, is a researcher with the CNRS at the Center for Immunology of Marseille-Luminy. Forget what you know about Amélie and garden gnomes: Noushine regaled her listeners with a tale of the “fabulous destiny of the stem cell”.
Voted in right behind her, Chafik Benchekroun, revealed the not-immediately-obvious connection between a geologist, a many-layered French pastry, and Charlemagne: geological dating, of course! What else?
Margaux Larre-Perrez let out a big yawn as she took the stage at the Paris final. Bored to death with this science communication thing? Hardly, but she caught you trying to suppress a yawn in response. Her explanation of mirror neurons and how the brain imitates another’s actions, perhaps in order to facilitate mutual understanding, earned her a spot at the April 30th final.
Justin Larouzée was victorious at the fourth and last round of regional selections, in Annecy, in the east of France. Justin is carrying out his PhD studies at the Center for Research on Risks and Crises of the engineering school Mines ParisTech. His three minutes of fame were surprisingly magical, using prestidigitation – sleight of hand – to understand human error and the role it can play in industrial safety.
Then, don’t miss the FameLab International Final in Cheltenham, UK, in June.
Because these young researchers are fun and talented and their subjects fascinating. Because this is science!