May 2015
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Learners to link up with astronaut
Shared Sky, shared wisdom
"Talking science" competition
A meeting of minds
Young scientists take on Australia
Learners unveil project in Beijing
Introduction to crystals
Young Science Communicators' Competition
SAASTA inspires class of 2015
Meet Prof. Nox Makunga
Top young achiever's journey
Wonders of water at Scifest Africa
Learners work with particle physicists
Meet SAEON's new education officer
Light comes out of the darkness
In the news
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It's a fact!

International "talking science" competition picks its South African winner

"Everyone has the key to happiness – it's in your brain!"

So says Stevie Biffen, a Master's student in neuroscience from the University of Cape Town. Stevie's talk "The Science of Happiness" won her first place in the 2015 FameLab South Africa finals, which was held on 20 March 2015 at Scifest Africa in Grahamstown.

The winner of FameLab South Africa 2015, Stevie Biffen from the University of Cape Town, spoke on the structure of the brain and how to be happy
Edgar Phukubje from the University of Limpopo impressed the judges with his talk on drug delivery to drug resistant bacteria

In her winning talk, she shared how instantaneous negative emotions we all experience from time to time do not have to lead to negative thoughts and a negative lifestyle. We use the frontal lobe of our brain to interpret emotions on a higher level.

While happiness is important, Stevie's own research project for her Master's degree is looking at something of a darker reality of life for some in the Western Cape. She is studying the possible effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on various neuroanatomical structures in children from the Western Cape.

Natasha Botha from the CSIR spoke on cost effective diagnosis of glaucoma
Dr Jabu Nukeri, MD of SAASTA (extreme left) and Colm McGivern, Country Director of the British Council in South Africa (extreme right) congratulate the winners of FameLab South Africa 2015: Stevie Biffen (centre), Natasha Botha (left) and Edgar Phukubje

Stevie will be taking her science and her gift of the gab to the Cheltenham Science Festival in the United Kingdom in June, to compete in the international FameLab finals.

Pop idols for science

The FameLab competition, fondly known as "pop idols for science", is an exciting international competition which nurtures and promotes science and technology, by creating a space for scientists and engineers to find their voices and reach and communicate with public audiences. It seeks out and nurtures science communication talent. Engagement between scientists and society is essential to grow a critically informed society and ensure that science remains relevant and responsive to societal needs.

Sixteen young scientists were selected from heats across the country, and flown to Grahamstown for a science communication master class hosted by Dr Emily Grossman, a renowned science communicator from the UK. This training was supported by the British Council, which encourages the strengthening of links between South African science and that in the UK.

After an intense two-day master class to hone their science communication and presentation skills, the 16 finalists competed in a semi-final, from which the top ten were selected to go through to the finals.

Topics ranged from novel drug delivery systems using engineered particles so small they can enter cells to release their contents, to better understanding neural responses affecting wellbeing and happiness – the subject of the winning talk. Energy-saving window coatings, super bacteria and satellite imaging to monitor scarce water resources were all presented for the judges.

Content, clarity and charisma

Speakers were judged on the content, clarity and charisma of their talks and had just three minutes to convey their science topic. The judges included Sarah Wild, Science Editor for the Mail and Guardian, Dr Sandile Malinga, CEO of the South African National Space Agency, and Professor Robin Grimes, Chief Science and Technology Advisor to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK.

Worthy runners up were Edgar Phukubje, a microbiologist from the University of Limpopo and Natasha Botha, a mechanical engineer from the CSIR.

FameLab(R) is produced by Cheltenham Festivals (all rights reserved). The competition is run collaboratively in South Africa by Jive Media Africa, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) and the British Council.

View the final live stream on YouTube.

For more information visit:
Jive Media Africa
South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement

By Joanne Riley, SAASTA