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The highlights of FameLab 2017

The highlights of FameLab 2017

FameLab 2017 is all wrapped up, and this year, the contestants definitely brought their A game.

The highlights of FameLab 2017

If you haven’t heard, FameLab is the world’s biggest science communication competition.

Produced by the British Council, FameLab celebrates research and achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Every year, STEM leaders from around the globe come to compete. Each country’s representative must present their research in an inspiring and creative way. The competition is the perfect marriage of art and science.

Before an international winner can be crowned, each country must choose its representative.

Australia has now chosen its strongest science communicator to represent our country in the international finals.

Australian FameLab 2017

This year, FameLab Australia was hosted by our own little hometown of Perth.

Our national finals began with a charming introduction from our own ‘crumpet’ of science—Alan Duffy.

He reminded us all how good science communication has the potential to improve and change the world. He also shared the secret of the ultimate science communication test—can you explain your science to your grandmother?

After all, science communication is the aim of the FameLab game. Each of the 11 contestants was offered the chance to explain their latest research in under 3 minutes.

The rules—no jargon, no PowerPoint presentations. The contestants had to find more creative ways to explain their science through passion and storytelling. They were judged on three Cs: charisma, clarity and content.

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Alan Duffy at FameLab Australia 2017

The highlights

Andrew Katsis kicked off the night with a heart-warming talk about prenatal learning. He linked his research in zebra finches to the beloved works of Dr Seuss.

Just as human babies in utero learned to recognise Dr Seuss stories, zebra finches may develop differently in their eggs depending on the calls they hear from their parents. It can even help them better adapt to the environment they hatch into. As Andrew summarises: for a finch in a pinch, adapting is a cinch!

WA’s own Bronwyn Ayre then captivated the audience with a little talk about the birds and the bees.

Plant ‘sex’ comes down to pollination. When we think of pollinating animals, our first thoughts turn to bees. But Bronwyn found that birds were profoundly better at helping our state floral emblem—the red and green kangaroo paw—spread its seed. She told us that size matters. Big birds get more touchy-feely with the plant’s reproductive parts, while small bees fly past them and just please themselves instead.

The next contestant, Ronald Yu, knew his son had a hidden agenda when the plucky 6-year-old said, “My friend has Oreos in his lunchbox every day”, especially as he was clutching a packet of the sweet treats he’d snuck from the supermarket shelves.

If only there were a way we could eat our favourite junk foods and get the nutrition our bodies need. Well, Ronald may have found a way, and he calls it the ‘big bran theory’. His research is finding ways to thicken the nutritious bran layer of wheat. As a result, wheat-based products are made more nutritious and healthy.

Nural Cokcetin then added a touch of sweetness to the night with her research on honey.

She tunes us in to ‘PooTube’, where we see all our different gut bacteria. These little critters influence so many of our body’s functions. And it turns out they love honey. Nural conducted the world’s first clinical study into the effects of honey on gut bacteria. She found that consuming just 20g of honey a day was enough to see a benefit. Could Winnie the Pooh be onto something?

We were also treated to talks about Tinder for fish, a way to rewire and rebuild the brain, and all the amazing things you can learn from echidna poo!

And the winner is …

The judges had a tough job deciding between the 11 amazing talks and phenomenal research. The talent was astounding, but there could only be one winner.

The worthy winner of FameLab Australia 2017 was Nural, taking out both the People’s Choice Award as well as the ultimate title.

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FameLab Australia 2017 winner Nural Cokcetin

We caught up with Nural after her victory, and her excitement was infectious.

“It feels amazing. I feel so excited that people are so excited about my research and just about science in general,” she smiles.

She tells us a bit about the winning research and how it began as part of her PhD.

“The main thing that I focused on during my PhD was if we can use honey to improve our bacterial balance that lives in our gut,” she explains.

“I looked at whether honey could boost those good bacteria, and I found that yes it does, and you just need a tablespoon a day and you can have significant benefits in your gut.”

Just a small amount of honey a day can have wide-reaching benefits. Benefits for gut bacteria lead to benefits in other parts of the body.

“Our gut bacteria have a huge role in our body. They help digest food, they help remove toxins, they make essential vitamins,” she says.

“An unhealthy gut can lead to lots of things like bowel diseases. It can also affect whether you get fat, whether you develop allergies, asthma, mental health issues.”

As winner of People’s Choice, Nural’s research seemed to have struck a chord with her audience. But what about it resonated with so many people?

“I think everyone loves honey!” she laughs.

“It’s just something familiar to everyone—they can really relate to honey.”

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