FameLab seeks out Ireland’s next science superstars

26 Feb 2019

From left: Prof Michael Devereux, Dr Niamh Shaw, Hayden Wilkinson, Andrea Bandelli, Saoirse McCrann, Jenny Navan and Jessie Dolliver at FameLab Dublin. Image: The British Council

FameLab finals are happening around the country as Ireland searches for its new science communication champion.

FameLab Ireland heats are rolling out across the country. Four new winners were crowned last week, and tomorrow (27 February) will see the selection of Cork’s favourite contender.

Held annually in more than 30 countries across the globe, FameLab is the world’s largest science communication competition. Anyone who is over 18 years old and studying or working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) is eligible to enter. The challenge is to explain a complex idea in a straightforward and engaging way, with only your wits, a few props and three minutes to do so.

Galway winner and regular science communication competitor Dr Fiona Malone used her time to describe her PhD research into the trajectory paths of blood clot analogues through ischaemic stroke patient vasculature. Fellow Galway champ James Blackwell explained how he is helping surgeons find brain tumours using ultrasound.

Representing Trinity College Dublin, Jessie Dolliver’s pro-plant agenda’ saw her come out on top in the Dublin event alongside optometrist and PhD researcher Saoirse McCrann, who shared her interest in investigating the link between the progression of shortsightedness and mobile phone use.

The Irish tournament is funded by Science Foundation Ireland while the global contest is delivered by the British Council. These four and all other regional heat winners are invited to attend a free communication masterclass ahead of the FameLab Ireland final, which will be held in Dublin on 11 April 2019. Following in the footsteps of Sharon Omiwole, the 2019 national champion will then head to the FameLab International final, which takes place each year at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June.

Melissa Mae Gabriel, a Malaysian medical student in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), progressed to the Dublin competition following a win at the RCSI heat. “My presentation was about the impact of universal newborn hearing screening in cochlear-implanted children in Ireland. It was my first summer research in medical school and I was personally very passionate to speak on it as I saw the huge impact it made on the lives [of] children and their families,” she said.

“I was quite nervous as many of the participants were researchers, but it was a really good event where I got to hear talks on many different topics,” she said of her first time competing. “It was a good platform to mingle with people from different faculties in RCSI, too.”

A young woman holds a microphone and gestures while speaking on-stage at FameLab in Dublin.

Melissa Mae Gabriel conducts her FameLab presentation at Wigwam in Dublin. Image: The British Council

The university heat took place around the time of Gabriel’s end-of-year exams, but she decided to give it a go anyway. Then, as the regional final approached, she had to head to Malaysia to continue the clinical component of her degree. Luckily, Gabriel was able to return to Dublin and try again for a place in the national final.

Though she lost out to Dolliver and McCrann, Gabriel encourages others to throw their hat in the ring for the competition. “It really is an incredible learning experience. You may be passionate about a certain subject, and FameLab gives you that platform to share it in a fun and creative way. It may push you out of your comfort zone but it definitely helps you grow as a person, too.”

Tickets are still available for the Cork event and, for hopeful competitors who can’t make it to this last regional heat, video entries can be made via the British Council website up to midnight on 3 March 2019.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.