Almost FameLab

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 “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” Andy Warhol predicted in 1968. Warhol’s future is already our past and 15 minutes may be more than most of us can hope for (the youtube limit is 10), but young Israeli scientists have an opportunity to compete for 3 minutes of fame, with FameLab.

What is FameLab and why is Midnight East, a magazine devoted to culture, so interested? FameLab is an international competition intended to encourage young scientists to communicate with the general public, enhance awareness and understanding of cutting-edge scientific and technological research. Originating with the UK Cheltenham Science Festival and NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), FameLab was introduced in Israel in 2007 as part of the British Council Beautiful Science regional project in South-East Europe. This year’s competition will extend to more countries, with the national winners competing at the UK Cheltenham Science Festival which will take place in June.

Science and technology permeate every aspect of our lives, forming an integral part of our cultural environment. After all, technology brought us video sharing websites and other cultural pleasures. Art and science are not always on speaking terms, but imagine the conversations we could have if they were. A look at the Cheltenham Science Festival’s website offers a glimpse of the possibilities of communication that can take place between different disciplines, influencing culture in many ways: “Decadence is a provocative word: luxurious, sensuous and self-indulgent, a celebration of the good things in life but redolent of moral and social decline. This year at the Science Festival we’ll be exploring Decadence, and what it means to us — with events asking how and why science has given us the luxuries that we find difficult to sacrifice.”

There is an ever-widening information gap between the general public and cutting edge science. One of the ways to bridge this gap is by developing the communication skills of young scientists. FameLab is a program that not only identifies and showcases skilled science communicators, but nurtures those talents as well. Although some scientists express the concern that an emphasis on presentation will lead young scientists away from research, Sonia Feldman, who in her capacity as science officer at the British Council in Israel introduced and implemented FameLab over the past three years, says, “On the contrary, it has reinforced their desire to do research, as they realize that people need to know and wanted to know.”

Competitors are required to present a 3 minute talk (in Hebrew) that is scientifically accurate, clear, and entertaining, without the use of visual aids. The competition is open to postgraduate students, scientists, researchers and anyone working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. The first stage of the competition is an audition before a panel of judges, who select 9 participants to present a second talk (on a different topic) in the evening before the judges and an audience. The auditions will take place in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Each city will select 4 finalists to participate in a master class in science communication before the final competition which will take place on May 5, at the Hemda Centre for Science Education in Tel Aviv. The winner of the competition will represent Israel in Cheltenham.

FameLab 2009: actress Esti Zackheim, Adi Matan British Embassy Science Attache, Professor Eitan Freedman Tel HaShomer, Professor Eilam Gross Weizmann Institute

FameLab is a wonderful opportunity for scientists to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, and for the public to enjoy a tasting menu of scientific insights and dilemmas. Auditions will take place on April 13 at the Technion in Haifa, April 14 at Hemda in Tel Aviv and April 15 at the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem. Additional information and online registration is available on the Hemda website.

FameLab 2010 is supported by Teva and organized by the Hemda Centre for Science Education in cooperation with the Technion, the Bloomfield Science Museum and the British Council. Midnight East will be following this year’s FameLab competition, but in the meantime, check out some great talks from previous years on youtube.

AYELET DEKEL