News - March 8, 2016

Science pitches at FameLab

Koen Guiking

The FameLab preliminary rounds in Wageningen were won by Tim Hofmeester and Nikki Mascarenhas. They will continue to the national finals of the science communication competition, on 22 April in Utrecht.

Nikki Mascarenhas (second from the left) and Tim Hofmeester (middle) are the winners of FameLab Wageningen. Photo: Wageningen University.

Three minutes. This was the time that the fifteen candidates received on Friday afternoon 4 March to explain what makes their research so fun and relevant. The participants were clearly well prepared, they each gave an enthusiastic pitch. The topics varied from the side effects of cleaning up oil spills in the Gold of Mexico to breeding chickens that are less likely to become ill. Other fascinating presentations were on teleporting quantum particles, the Dutch overwintering geese who, without stopping, fly to the Arctic Circle to keep up with climate change and on viruses that make zombies of their hosts which then do exactly what the virus wants them to do.

In his winning pitch Tim Hofmeester explained that kids are unfairly frightened for the big bad wolf. ‘You should be more afraid of the small mice than for the wolf’, he told his listeners. Why? Because there is a link between the presence of large carnivores and the presence of the ticks that transmit Lyme disease, he explained. These ticks are particularly transferred by rodents, according to Hofmeester. In areas with large predators populations of prey remain small and distribute less quickly.

The other winner, Nikki Mascarenhas, talked about the ‘bystander effect’.  Mascarenhas studied Artificial Intelligence in Groningen and Industrial Design in Eindhoven, but her pitch was on human behaviour. If somebody falls in a busy street bystanders often do not help. ‘This is because everyone only feels a little bit responsible’, the student clearly explains. ‘But you can shift the responsibility of the group to one person, by saying ‘You there, please help me.”.’