On Thursday 8 March ten young scientists gathered at Groninger Forum for the regional heat of FameLab Netherlands, the annual international science communication competition organized by the British Council. The aim was to share their passion for science with the audience in a three-minute presentation. PowerPoint slides, complicated theories and jargon not allowed.
Not an easy task. Some participants had so much time to spare they could have easily done a second pitch. Others talked right through the red warning lights and ultimately were stopped by the horn as they went over the assigned time.
The themes ranged from theoretical and fundamental to experimental and application-focused research. It was a fascinating night that took the public, mostly consisting of friends, family and professors, through space and time. From cosmic black holes to nanoscale molecules and from the origin of life to the future of electronics. Although all the pitches were fascinating, the judges were blown away by two contestants, both chemists: Marcel Eleveld and Marco Carlotti.
Eleveld is a 24-year-old Dutch nanoscience student. He is currently finishing his Master’s degree with a research project in the Systems Chemistry group under the supervision of Prof. Sijbren Otto. In his three-minute pitch he visualized the concept of thermodynamics by comparing energy to mountains and valleys. A move that was praised by the judges. The main take-away from his talk was that ‘there is still a lot that needs to be done in systems chemistry. There is still a lot that we are trying to figure out.’
Carlotti is a 29-year-old Italian graduate of Pisa University. He is currently doing PhD research in the Chemistry of Molecular Materials and Devices group at the University of Groningen, under the supervision of Prof. Ryan Chiechi. He credits some of his success to his hobby: theatre and the performing arts. He has been doing drama since his last year of secondary school and is currently chair of the Groningen University Theatre Society (GUTS). The main take-away from his pitch was: ‘I want people to realize that molecular electronics is not going to radically change our current technology. It will refine it but not change it.’
The FameLab competition highlights the importance of science communication. Neither winner had formal training in science communication but both appreciate the need for it. Eleveld: ‘Science communication is a way to justify public funding but it’s also our duty as scientists. Perhaps it sounds moralistic, but I think it’s part of our job as scientists to be able to explain our research and science to the general public. In the past religion used to explain the world but now that is the job of science.’
Carlotti sees science communication as more than simply sharing knowledge. ‘Science communication is an instrument we can use to teach the scientific thought process. This is very important because we need to communicate not just our knowledge but also, perhaps more importantly, how to think logically and scientifically. We need to explain how to interpret scientific data and concepts.’
Written by Mónica Espinoza Cangahuala
FameLab Netherlands is organized by the British Council in partnership with KNAW, VSNU and TivoliVredenburg. The Groningen regional heat was organized by Science LinX for the University of Groningen. The ten winners of the five regional heats proceed to a two-day masterclass before competing in the National Final. This will take place at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht on Wednesday 9 May 2018. The FameLab Netherlands 2018 winner will travel to the UK to compete in the FameLab International Final at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2018.
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