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Science, AgriSciences, Health Sciences students victorious at SU’s FameLab heat
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Alec Basson]
Published: 09/05/2024

​​Tallulah Glasby, a master's student in microecology at Stellenbosch University (SU), has won the SU heat of the 2024 national FameLab competition.

The event took place on Wednesday (8 May) at the SU LaunchLab. Eduard Zehrt, a master's student in food science, and Carene Ndong Sima, a doctoral student in human genetics, finished second and third respectively. Glasby walked away with R4 000, while Zehrt and Ndong Sima both pocketed R3 000. Ndong Sima also received an extra R1 500 after also being named as the audience choice winner. The prize money was co-sponsored by the Postgraduate Office at SU and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies Prof Sibusiso Moyo.

Considered to be one of the biggest science communication and public speaking competitions in the world, FameLab, which is also a development initiative, creates a platform for young emerging scientists to speak to public audiences about their work.

Glasby, Zehrt and Ndong Sima were among 17 master's and doctoral students who were given only three minutes to share their research with the audience. As the winner of the heat, Glasby will represent SU at the national semi-finals in September where she will compete against the winners of heats at other universities in South Africa.

  • ​Cellphone users click here for video.

Glasby won the heat for her talk on the community of organisms living at the surface of soils called biological soil crusts. “These microorganisms produce essential nutrients for the environment and for life, enrich the soil, and allow other organisms to inhabit these areas. They also act as a sponge by absorbing and retaining moisture in the soil and creating tiny oases for other soil organisms."

Commenting on her win, Glasby said that even though her victory was unexpected, it was an amazing experience to share her work with the public. She was also grateful for the science communication skills she gained at the pre-event workshop.

In his presentation, Zehrt shared how he is using hyperspectral cameras – they work exactly like the cameras in cellphones – to analyse what is inside food and to combat food fraud. Focusing on chicken, he said this allows him to determine how fresh and tender the meat is and to even check if bacteria are growing on the surface. “With my research, I'm able to distinguish between free range and conventional chicken with 80% accuracy."

Zehrt said it was an enjoyable experience to talk about his research in this way. He encouraged other students to take part in the FameLab heat.

In her talk, Ndong Sima emphasised the need for a patient-centred approach to treat Tuberculosis. She said it is important to look at our genes because they can tell us how people would respond to treatment. “Having people's genetic profile, we can then predict which patient would be more at risk of treatment failure before treatment initiation. That would be a game changer."

Ndong Sima said she was surprised to be among the winners. She commended the judges and instructors for helping her to be comfortable in front of an audience and to share her research.

In her welcoming speech, Prof Moyo touched on the importance of science communication and said researchers need to show how their work benefits society. “We want the next generation of scientists, masters and doctoral students who can share their research strategically and impactfully with a wider audience."

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 Wiida Fourie-Basson (Faculty of Science), Maambele Khosa (Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation), Marina Joubert (Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology) and Fumani Jwara (South African Research Chair in Science Communication).

A masterclass in science communication and public speaking will be presented prior to the national semi-finals by a trainer brought in from the United Kingdom (UK) by the British Council. The top ten from the semi-finals will compete at the national finals and the winner of FameLab SA will represent South Africa at the international finals in the UK.

  • Photo: Carene Ndong Sima, Tallulah Glasby and Eduard Zehrt at the FameLab heat. Photographer: Stefan Els​
  • Video of FameLab heat by Stefan Els