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Science, Health Sciences students take top honours at SU’s FameLab heat
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]
Published: 20/10/2021

​Tarryn Surajpal, a Master's student in Applied Mathematics at Stellenbosch University (SU), has won the SU heat of the 2022 cycle* of the national FameLab science communication and public speaking competition.

The virtual event took place on Wednesday (13 October 2021). Tanya van Aswegen, a PhD student in Psychiatry, and Jamila Janna, a Master's student in Zoology, finished second and third respectively. Considered to be one of the biggest science communication competitions in the world, FameLab creates a platform for young emerging scientists to speak to public audiences about their work.

Surajpal, Van Aswegen and Janna were among 16 Master's and doctoral students who were given only three minutes to share their research with the audience. As the winner of the heat, Surajpal will represent SU at the national final next year where she will compete against the winners of heats at other universities in South Africa.

The SU FameLab heat was organised by Jive Media Africa and the Postgraduate Office which forms part of the Division for Research Development. The judges were Prof Nox Makunga (Department of Botany and Zoology), Dr Palesa Mothapo (Division for Research Development), and Ms Lili Rademan (Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology).

Surajpal won the SU heat for her talk about the use of various models to predict the properties of effluent from desalination plants, especially in terms of how it mixes and spreads in the ocean upon discharge. Her research may help to prevent negative environmental effects.

Commenting on her win, Surajpal said she is grateful for the effective science communication tips she picked up during the FameLab competition.

“The scientific communication skills developed during the FameLab training and competition help researchers with explaining their work to the general public in an effective and comprehensive manner. When scientists share their work with the public, in a manner which is engaging and understandable, it develops avenues to combat misinformation and to increase collaboration with people in other fields (and hence lends to progress and innovation)."

In her presentation, Van Aswegen spoke about the attachment relationship between a mother and child within the context of mental health. This research is important because it highlights the need for cross-cultural research of theories that pertain to mental health and child development.

Van Aswegen said it was wonderful to participate in the FameLab heat because it gave her “the ability to think outside of the 'jargon box' and bring my family and friends on this journey with me".

“The FameLab competition has given us a different and new platform to feel part of a greater scientific community, not only to share our passion for science but get talking again. I would encourage every researcher to participate in training for science communication, because, in the end we want to be advocates and educators in science."

In her talk, Janna focused on the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) as a cheaper, less destructive, and less biased and limiting tool to investigate fish diversity in the face of a changing climate, overexploitation of natural resources and pollution. Her research also aims to protect South Africa's mangrove forests as important coastal ecosystems for juvenile fish which may form part of the small-scale, line- and commercial fisheries. Janna emphasised the importance of a competition like FameLab and said, “scientists need to be trained to communicate science in simple terms so that important scientific information is conveyed to the general public, especially when the science is relevant to a good portion of the population."

One of SU's institutional finalists for FameLab's 2021 cycle, PhD-student Kaylan Reddy (Department of Botany and Zoology) is competing for the national title today (20 October).

The winner of the South African final will represent the country at the international FameLab competition in the United Kingdom.

*Due to the pandemic, the usual rhythm of the FameLab cycle shifted on by a few months. In the past, the international FameLab competition was in June, but for the 2019 and 2020 FameLab cycles, the international FameLab competition was much later in November, and the 2021 international FameLab competition will also be in November. Since a FameLab cycle typically starts the previous year going into the next year, there is thus overlap with the 2021 and 2022 cycles.

  • Photo: Tarryn Surajpal, Tanya van Aswegen and Jamila Janna.