April 2014
Contents / home
FameLabSA 2014
Science Lens winners
Young, innovative and gifted
Intern receives Fellowship in Paris
Transformation in marine science
Looking for the brainiacs of yesteryear
Skies alive with space activities
Training the trainers
On your marks ... Get SET Go!
Schools debates advisory committee
Science community volunteers
The science of giving back
New science communication resource
Bringing nanotech to the disabled
Meet media guru Daryl Ilbury
Water World @ Scifest Africa 2014
Exploring marine science
Sharks, vegetables and alien fish
SAIAB cares
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

FameLabSA 2014 - "Pop idols for scientists"

  A 25-year-old microbiologist from North West University, Raven Motsewabangwe, emerged as the judges' favourite
  Raven explains the concept of viral infections during his three-minute slot
  The winner of FameLabSA 2014, Raven Motsewabangwe (centre) with runners-up Gugu Mabuza from the CSIR (left) and Cornelis van Niekerk from the University of Pretoria
  The nine finalists are introduced to the audience at the Scifest Africa national final
South Africa is producing world-class research in a myriad of different disciplines and now young scientists are finding ways to share their passion for science on a global platform. For the second year in a row, SAASTA supported the FameLab project to grow science communication in South Africa and to identify new role-models for science and technology.

FameLab is the international competition which gets everyone talking science. Billed as a "pop-idols for scientists", participants are given just three minutes to present their science to a panel of judges and a live audience. Their speeches are judged on three C's - Content, Clarity and Charisma - ultimately a measure of the extent to which they can engage a public audience with a topic in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

FameLab was started in 2005 at the Cheltenham Science Centre in the UK with the purpose of identifying the UK's best young science communicators, and, in the process, throw a spotlight on the need to develop the art and scope of science communication. The competition concept was simple: scientists taking part had three minutes to talk about an area of science they found fascinating. There was one critical proviso: the talk had to connect with a non-scientific audience; oh yes, and it had to be done on a stage under the glare of a spotlight - a nightmare scenario for most scientists.

Despite the challenge, the concept took off, and FameLab is now an annual event in 25 countries around the world, with the international final held each year at its spiritual home at Cheltenham.

FameLab comes to SA

Last year the British Council teamed up with Jive Media Africa and SAASTA to bring FameLab to South Africa, and FameLabSA was born. Heats were held in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, and the national final was part of Scifest Africa in Grahamstown. Cosmologist Michelle Knights walked off with the first prize and jetted off to the UK to represent South Africa at the international finals.

This year SAASTA decided to take FameLabSA to a much higher level. It injected more money into the project; established a dedicated team to help manage it; implemented workshops for competitors; and added more sparkle to the staging. Over the space of five weeks, a FameLabSA stage and lighting and production crew criss-crossed the country to take the competition to seven regional heats: Durban, Polokwane, Johannesburg, Mafikeng, Bloemfontein, Cape Town and Uitenhage.

At each event a different team of four judges - comprising two scientists, a science communicator and a media specialist - ranked the performances according to three criteria: content (how factually correct it was), clarity (how understandable it was for a non-scientific audience), and charisma (how well did the performer connect with the audience).

Intensive training regime for SA finalists

A total of eighteen finalists were chosen from the regional heats and taken to Grahamstown ahead of the national finals for an intensive training regime with Malcolm Love, a presentation specialist from FameLab International. The semi-finals were held on Thursday, 13 March at the St Andrews' Drill Hall, where the eighteen were then whittled down to the final nine.

Before a packed Scifest Africa audience at the Guy Butler Theatre at the 1820 Memorial Building, the nine finalists - who only a few weeks earlier had taken the first frightened and tentative steps into the spotlight, and were now trained, focused and better-versed in the challenges of science communication - each pulled off a faultless performance.

Who is SA's 2014 Pop Idol of Science?

It was a 25-year-old microbiologist from Mafikeng in the North West Province - Raven Motsewabangwe - who emerged as the judges' favourite. His casual pop-star looks, engaging smile and the ease with which he explained the concept of viral infections using little more than two coloured balloons won the hearts of many of the female audience; and when his name was announced as the winner, they rushed onto the stage to pose with their hero - South Africa's 2014 Pop Idol of Science. Raven will be jetting to the UK to complete against winners from around the globe.

The runners-up were Gugu Mabuza from the CSIR and Cornelis van Niekerk from the University of Pretoria.

By Daryl Ilbury, Media Coordinator, SAASTA and Robert Inglis, Jive Media Africa