#02 2021

SAEON hosts its first online FameLab® competition

By Nasreen Burgher, Marlize Muller, Amukelani Maluleke, Craig Mahlasi, Corianna Julie and Lindokuhle Dlamini

Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated.”

– Anne Roe

On 4 March SAEON hosted its very first online FameLab heat. FameLab is an international competition for young scientists (aged 21 to 35) in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The young scientists are challenged to communicate their science to a public audience in under three minutes. Their talks should be fun and engaging, without using jargon or formal presentations, therefore making their science relevant to everyone.  The talks are judged based on content, clarity and charisma.

The SAEON Graduate Student Network (GSN) steering committee were forerunners in all stages of the successful FameLab event – from the planning and presentation stage to directing the programme of the day in collaboration with the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), Jive Media Africa and the British Council.

The judging panel consisted of Michael Ellis from NRF SAASTA and a team of passionate scientists from across the SAEON nodes. The smooth running of the programme was facilitated by Nasreen Burgher and Craig Mahlasi, members of the GSN steering committee.

A stimulating introduction by Robert Inglis, founder and director of Jive Media Africa, started off the FameLab event on Zoom, with everyone glued to their screens. Nasreen and Craig then introduced the competitors, who represented various SAEON nodes: Caroline Sejeng (Egagasini Node), Keletso Moilwe (Fynbos Node), Tamryn Hamilton (EFTEON), Jonathan Rogerson (Egagasini Node) and Lindiwe Nkabane (Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node).

Topics ranged from terrestrial science (“The Voice of Trees” by Tamryn Hamilton) to oceanic science (“The Dynamics of Oxygen in the Global Ocean” by Jonathan Rogerson). The competitors enthusiastically presented their research with some using props to better explain their topic – we certainly will not forget Caroline’s pink hard hat and Keletso’s roving homemade remote-sensing platforms!

And our winner was… 

… Keletso Moilwe from the Fynbos Node with her talk “Repeatable methods for classification of alien and native vegetation in the montane grasslands”. She very successfully used facial expressions, hand signals and props to convey her story of invasive species “building their empires” in our natural vegetation.

Keletso clearly conveyed her message highlighting the threat of invasive plants to our natural ecosystems and how she plans to “police” them using GIS and remote-sensing techniques for her master’s project. She subsequently competed in the National Research Foundation (NRF) Facilities FameLab heat.

The SAEON FameLab event was a resounding success. The ability to communicate clearly and concisely continues to be a useful skill for scientists in an age where information has become a commodity that is quickly and widely disseminated and easily available. Packaging research information to inform, clarify or dispel disinformation will certainly help towards science being well-received on public platforms.

We look forward to hosting upcoming scientists in future SAEON FameLab events!

Clockwise from left: Robert Inglis, founder and director of Jive Media Africa, opens SAEON’s online FameLab event; ii) Tamryn Hamilton from EFTEON presents on a historic rainfall record recovered from tree cores; iii) Jonathan Rogerson from the Egagasini Node describes the dynamics of oxygen in the global ocean; iv) the main judge, Michael Ellis from NRF SAASTA; v) Caroline Sejeng from the Egagasini Node wears her pink hat proudly while presenting her PhD work; vi) Lindiwe Nkabane from the Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node takes us on a tour of Lake Sibyai and the environmental threats facing the wetland; and vii) SAEON FameLab winner Keletso Moilwe from the Fynbos Node describes her role as Captain to police invasives in the LimpopoMpumalanga region