Saturday, March 2, 2013


I missed my Wordless Wednesday post this week and then I missed my Friday Five too. And I've started reading The Return of the King without blogging about The Two Towers. I could probably blame my honours quantum mechanics course or my insistence on making the wraps we had for dinner from scratch, but I'm going to pin it on FameLab instead.

FameLab is an international event/competition that promotes young scientists "Talking Science" with the general public. Conversely, it promotes people hearing - and hopefully learning - about science, which is a Good Thing in my book. It's all done through the form of three minute presentations where PowerPoint slides and more props than you can carry are banned. This works really, really well, despite its simplicity.

For one thing, "Death by PowerPoint" and related maladies were almost entirely banished. For another, three minutes is barely long enough to get bored. The time limit was strictly enforced by vuvuzela (I assume other countries have equivalents) - although just the threat seemed enough for the people I watched. Regional heats were open to any (practising or studying) scientist in the 21-35 age range, which seems to have ensured that everyone had something worth saying - and not enough time to make it boring.

There was feedback from the judges after each presentation - I was impressed at how much this stayed positive, helpful and interesting to the audience. Presenting and being scrutinised was a little scary - the cameramen and microphones and masking tape squares on the floor didn't help - but an awesome experience.

A handful of us were invited back to regional finals - another three minute presentation a couple of hours later, taking into account the judges' feedback. The fact that it had to be a different presentation seems like a rather effective test of breadth. It felt like a test of improv skills too when we were suddenly called for on-camera interviews! It's surprisingly tricky to do that sit-sideways-and-smile-at-the-camera drill, never mind actually answering questions! Not that I'm complaining: it was all part of the excitement.

The regional finals were awesome. While some of the first round presentation were a bit rough, these were all fascinating. The kind of thing that would make for a great school field trip or the like, I thought. The scientific basis for the zombie apocalypse; a eulogy for coal; forensics and DNA testing. (You can see something of the impressive breadth the presentations covered there too.)

My nails probably owe their continued existence to all the interesting people I had to talk to while the judges deliberated, between the scientists and the competition staff. The compere seemed less friendly when she started stalling the results, though . . .

Three of us went through to the national finals. One of them was me! Um, what? I entered this thing just for kicks - the first round really is an experience in itself (next year I'll be telling everyone else to do it too). I'm just this girl who likes showing people how things work, not some kind of professional anything.

But apparently I'm going SciFest Africa in Grahamstown. I think. If I were dreaming I would've woken up by now, right? And it wouldn't have left me so ridiculously tired.

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