Deirdre Robertson wins Irish leg of FameLab for unfreezing our brains

19 Apr 2017

FameLab Ireland winner Deirdre Robertson delivering her pitch. Image: Paul Sherwood

Dublin-based researcher Deirdre Robertson impressed the FameLab Ireland judges enough to be named this year’s national winner for her technique of ‘unfreezing our brains’.

For the past 12 years, FameLab has been putting researchers to the test in the UK and around the world, by challenging their ability to communicate a research concept in front of a panel of judges.

Unlike a typical pitch, however, speed is of the essence as researchers have only three minutes to get their content across clearly while being both engaging and charismatic.

While the final FameLab pitch competition takes place at the Cheltenham Festivals in the UK, each of the 35 participating nations has its own heat to determine who makes it to the next stage.

On 13 April, Ireland held its national heat at the Science Gallery in Dublin, where a number of researchers duked it out to see who had the gift of the gab when it comes to science.

After much deliberation, it was announced that Deirdre Robertson, a Trinity College Dublin (TCD) postdoctoral researcher in psychology, was the national FameLab winner for her pitch ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete: Unfreezing the Brain’.

During her presentation, Robertson discussed the process of visual cueing, a rehabilitation technique used to assist those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Previous research has shown that the brain differentiates between automatic versus goal-oriented movements.

By simply placing lines on the ground, patients’ brains often ‘unfreeze’ and their bodies become mobile again as they follow the line they walk, bypassing the broken ‘autopilot’ systems that govern their daily lives.

Having spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher in Columbia University in New York, Robertson’s current research looks at how the mind affects the body, often without awareness, and what impact this can have on health, particularly as people get older.

FameLab Ireland participants

All of the participants and judges of FameLab Ireland 2017. Image: Paul Sherwood

Runners up

Also on the night, NUI Galway microbiology undergraduate Joanne Duffy was awarded second place for her project ‘The Gene Genies’. Meanwhile, TCD biochemistry student Ross Murphy came in third for his project ‘What Does It Mean to Be You?’

Dr Ruth Freeman, director of strategy and communications at Science Foundation Ireland, said: “Congratulations to Deirdre Robertson and all this year’s FameLab participants on their dedication to creating and delivering fantastic presentations.”

Robertson will now battle it out with 34 other nationalities at the world final at the Cheltenham Science Festival taking place this June.

Updated, 3.55pm, 19 April 2017: A previous version of this article stated the incorrect participant in third place. It has been amended to clarify that Ross Murphy was second runner-up in the Irish heat of FameLab.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic