Ms Clarissa van der Loo, a Doctoral student from the Water and Health Research Centre at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), recently won the regional heat of the FameLabSA Competition, held at the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in Pretoria, for her presentation about her studies on borehole water. She now proceeds to the semi-finals to be held at the University of Witwatersrand on 24 March 2017, after attending a two-day masterclass for all the competing semi-finalists.
The event, dubbed a national science communication extravaganza, welcomed young scientists from across the country competing to be named the best science communicator.
FameLab, in partnership with the British Council, SAASTA (South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, and Jive Media Africa , brings one of the biggest science communication competitions in the world to South Africa and is helping scientists and engineers all around the world improve their communication skills. By supporting them to clearly explain their science to the public, they are helping to narrow the gap between science and the society in which it is at work.
Contenders across the country had two opportunities of three minutes each to explain a science topic of their choice to a public audience, using only props they could carry onstage (no PowerPoint slides or charts allowed). A panel of science communication experts were called on to judge the competitions. Ms Van der Loo participated in the preliminary competition, where she presented two science-related concepts.
“I explained what I had done in my study and briefly pointed to results that we found which may lead to health problems in humans,” Van der Loo explained.
“Water is not an infinite resource, even though most people treat it as such. It worries me that during the recent drought, people drilled boreholes on their properties to fill up their pools and water their gardens – groundwater is the only Plan B that we have on this planet, people should respect and conserve all water sources,” she added.
Van der Loo concluded, saying: “I am very excited to meet like-minded scientists from across South Africa and learn from them. I am sure all of us are looking forward to the masterclass, where we will be taught the important factors in science communication. Even if there can be only one winner, all of us will leave with the necessary tools to convey our science to the man on the street. We can then ask our universities to help us organize events where we can speak to the vulnerable people in our country, and perhaps, get other partners involved to educate, and reach out to those who our science will benefit.
The national finals will take place at the Rand Easter show’s Science Festival.
Ms van der Loo focused on Biomedical Technology as undergraduate and obtained a Master’s degree in nontuberculous mycobacteria. Currently pursuing her doctoral degree, Ms Van der Loo is studying different microorganisms in water and how it may possibly impact human health. She aims to apply her experience specifically in focusing on access to safe drinking water and the impact this has on various human rights issues.