FameLab, the now international competition for science communicators is back this autumn and the London heats have begun! The search for the UK champion starts in heats around the country: London is so talented that Kings College London hosted two heats this Wednesday with a winner and a wildcard from each heat making the final which will be held next Wednesday.
Over the next few days, Nature Network London will feature interviews with the winners and wildcards hoping to make the UK final and first up is wildcard and Imperial PhD student Edward Yoxall:
Hello, Ned, congratulations on making the FameLab final! Tell us a bit about what you presented and why you picked it.
I did my presentation on invisibility. I work in a (vaguely) related field, but to me it’s just one of those subjects that’s straight out of science fiction. I remember being incredibly impressed the first time I heard it was doable – although there are obviously massive limitations on what we can do at the moment. Still, I’ve no doubt we’ll get there!
How did you become interested in communication and have you ever done anything like this before?
I’ve never done anything like FameLab, but I guess I’ve always enjoyed being on stage. Gives you such a rush! I’ve been working for the BBC on the ‘Bang Goes the Theory’ roadshow as a science demonstator, so that’s been pretty good practice for speaking in front of crowds. It’s also been good at making me pitch at the right level – finding the balance between complexity and simplicity is definitely one of the hardest parts of the job.
Your style obviously struck a chord with the judges. What do you think is important when communicating science to the public?
I’ve got fairly strong opinions about this, and I imagine some will disagree strongly. To me, science communication should purely be aimed at entertaining. Let’s be honest, in a short speech you’d be lucky if people remember one single thing you said. Hopefully it’ll be a little snippet they’ll share down the pub later, but if we can link science with something that’s cool and fun, I see that as job done. People will do all the rest on their own – but they’ll only do that if you can persuade them that it’s not all learning about blocks on a tilted plank as they remember it from school!
Sci-comm seems to be on a high at the moment, with everyone talking about Frozen Planet and wanting to live with penguins. Looking into the future, do you have a dream presenting gig?
Yep, Blue Peter. Always wanted to do it – training with the Marines one day, feeding lions the next, all topped off with a healthy dose of ’here’s one I prepared earlier’. I don’t think life could get much better!
Back to the day job for a minute: tell us about your research and areas of interest.
OK, I’m a 3rd year PhD student at Imperial. I work on a super-high resolution imaging technique called s-SNOM which stands for scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy. Basically it’s a way of getting around the diffraction limit and has loads of potential uses. I’m interested in doing plasmonics imaging and infrared spectroscopy with it.
Do you have a plan for the future? Do you hope to stay in academia or would you like to do this sort of thing full time?
Good question! I love my work, so I’d like to stay in academia, but who knows, if the right opportunity comes up… Ask me again in 5 years!
Do you have a website or have any events coming up where readers can see you in action?
I’ll be in Salford on the 16th December for a special sports science version of Bang Goes the Theory Live. I believe some of the Manchester City players will be there which is pretty awesome!
Tell us something cool about science!
Look around you. Science did pretty much all of it! Otherwise, check this video out. Definitely the most jaw dropping demonstration I’ve ever seen.
Thank you very much for talking to us, Ned: good luck in the final on Wednesday!