RCSI’s Tammy Strickland wins FameLab Ireland 2021

1 Oct 2021

Tammy Strickland. Image: FameLab Ireland

Strickland’s whodunnit-inspired talk, The Curious Case of a Seizure at Night, concerned the complexities of epilepsy.

Tammy Strickland has been crowned the winner of FameLab Ireland 2021 and named Ireland’s best science communicator.

The final of the annual science communication contest was held yesterday (30 September) and saw 12 competitors deliver three-minute talks on a range of science subjects. Having won, Strickland will now represent Ireland at the FameLab international finals next month.

Strickland’s talk was entitled The Curious Case of a Seizure at Night. She discussed epilepsy, noting that it is a complex condition with multiple, not fully understood causes, and that it affects around 50m people worldwide.

The short lecture was given through the medium of a story about an encounter on a night-time train. Answering judges’ questions afterwards, Strickland said she was inspired by Agatha Christie, who some experts think may have had epilepsy. The ‘whodunnit’ related to the study of the condition, with researchers searching for a culprit.

Strickland also noted the ways in which epilepsy is poorly understood by the public in general. “There’s a lack of control, and people can stigmatise behavioural traits like that in society, unfortunately. There’s a similar story for things like schizophrenia,” she said.

“I think people get quite afraid. It’s a dramatic situation, where people feel they can’t help.”

She pointed out that photosensitivity, which is often associated with epilepsy, actually affects only around 3pc of cases of the condition. The story Strickland told in her talk concerned a man whose seizures tended just to occur at a certain time of day, without any triggering event.

Reacting to her win, Strickland said: “Oh my god, thank you so much. That’s a complete shock. Wow!”

Strickland is a pre-doctoral student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), doing research on the links between circadian rhythm disruption and neurological conditions including acquired epilepsy. She is a research assistant at FutureNeuro, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for chronic and rare neurological diseases, based at RCSI.

She previously studied at Trinity College Dublin and NUI Galway, and is a member of the board of Women in Technology and Science Ireland.

This year’s FameLab Ireland was the ninth and final edition of the competition. It was run by the British Council of Ireland with funding from Science Foundation Ireland.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin