FameLab – The American Idol of Science Communication

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Famelab was hosted in March in Houston at the Lunar Planetary Institute and eight scientists participated.

You’re getting into an elevator and find yourself surrounded by astrophysicists . . . can you just imagine the conversations? I haven’t been in this situation recently, but  I have had the opportunity to increase my exposure to science among the stars. Over the last year, I’ve been asked to be a judge at regional FameLab competitions and I have to say, it’s more fun than I could have possibly imagined.

The FameLab concept originated in the United Kingdom, but was imported to the U.S. by clever folks at NASA. The idea is to provide scientists with an opportunity to demonstrate and improve their skill in describing what they do to an “average person” audience. In other words, taking science to the masses, a much-needed skill set in these days of compromised funding and support for science in general and our space program in particular.

This year, NASA has teamed up with National Geographic to open the competition to other science disciplines, including microbiology, archaeology, geophysics, bioengineering, and more. The competition usually begins with a morning round of three-minute presentations by each of the competitors. The scientists are judged on clarity, content, and charisma – essentially, the judges are asked to answer two questions: did I understand what he or she was saying and did I enjoy hearing about it? Depending on the number of contestants, the judges may then select those who will go on to an evening round, when the public is invited to attend. The winner of the regional competition will go

Famelab judges score the performance of each contestant and give good advice about improving.

Famelab judges score the performance of each contestant and give good advice about improving.

on to compete other regional winners in a national competition and the winner of that will go on to an international competition at the Cheltenham Science Festival in Cheltenham, England. Coaching is provided to all of the contestants and training has been provided by Tim Merriman, co-author of Personal Interpretation: Connecting Your Audience to Heritage Resources, giving each participant the chance to learn more about the art and science of communicating to specific audiences.

See examples from the 2012 competition HERE.

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