FameLab Switzerland: a CERN PhD student triumphs

Would you be able to explain your work to a non-specialist in just three minutes? On Friday 24 May, the Swiss national final of FameLab saw six young researchers from CERN attempt just that. FameLab is an international competition in the style of a TV talent show, seeking out the next generation of talent in science communication.


Participants in the Swiss national final of FameLab alongside Deni Subasic, presenter of the event (far left), on Friday 24 May.

Having qualified from the Geneva heat held in the Globe in March, the six CERN representatives took to the stage in Moods bar in Zurich. As well as particle physics, from the fundamental building blocks (literally) of the Standard Model to medical applications, the line-up featured immunology, neurology and genetics.

Although slideshows are strictly banned from FameLab, other visual props are strongly encouraged. For instance, Piotr Traczyk (CMS) represented the apparent chaos of particle collisions by throwing together two decks of cards.

The finalists had also received an additional weekend’s worth of training from professional stand-up comedian Timandra Harkness. Technical engineering project associate Hugo Day commented: “Meeting the other competitors [at the training weekend] was a great way to get more inspiration and confidence, to try some more outlandish ideas, and for getting a group to do future events.”

Although all nine participants’ talks received high praise from live and online audiences alike, there could only be one winner. Zurich-based judges Daniel Kiper, Monika Clavsen and Florencia Canelli found that LHCb PhD student Donal Hill gave the best performance, concluding that “Donal’s talk was clear and understandable all the way through.”

This victory puts Donal through to the international semi-finals on 6 June, as part of Cheltenham Science Festival. He will be up against national winners from 19 other countries around the world, competing for a place in the international final on 7 June. Donal said: “I'm very excited! The opportunity to be part of the Cheltenham Science Festival is something I'm really looking forward to, and to compete against other young scientists from across the globe will be a great experience. Winning the international final would be fantastic, but the real prize is getting another chance to bring science to a wider audience.”

You can watch the international final live online, starting at 7:30 p.m. (CEST) on 7 June 2013, at this link: http://www.famelab.org/live-stream/

FameLab Switzerland is a collaboration between CERN, ETH Zurich and the British Council.

by Alexander Brown