First FameLab Competition Concludes in Egypt

Published online 15 February 2010

Mohammed Yahia

The winners of FameLab Egypt will travel to the UK to compete in FameLab International
The winners of FameLab Egypt will travel to the UK to compete in FameLab International
Mohammed Yahia

Amid roaring applause, the grand finale of FameLab Egypt — a science-communication competition — came to an end after ten final contestants competed for a chance to represent the country in FameLab International.

FameLab is a competition similar to the British television singing competition X Factor, but instead of showing off their singing talents, the contestants are asked to present a science topic in a simple and interesting way that can be understood by the average person. They are scored by a jury for three qualities: content, clarity and charisma.

The final took place on 26 January 2010, as part of the Euro-Mediterranean Innovation Marketplace. The event drew hundreds of people, who crowded into the large hall where it was held.

The idea for the competition originated in the United Kingdom but quickly spread to different countries such as Bulgaria, Turkey and Croatia. FameLab came to Egypt as a partnership between the British Council and the Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) programme. This is the first time that it has been held in the Middle East. Contestants were encouraged to make their presentations in Arabic.

FameLab is running in 13 countries this year. The national winners will then travel to the United Kingdom to compete in FameLab International during the Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2010.

"Interest in science here in Egypt has declined since the 80s. We want to make science interesting again through FameLab. We want to take science out of labs and classrooms and make it engaging for the public," said Hanan Dowidar, who is deputy coordinator of the RDI programme.

"This show helps change the idea of basic science as something boring and complicated and links it to its applications so that people can understand that these sciences deliver these wonderful innovations to them," said runner-up Mohammed Refaat, who is an assistant researcher at the Nanotechnology Research Center in the American University in Cairo (AUC).

The finalists were chosen after four local heats in three different Egyptian cities. The organizers received hundreds of applications, which far surpassed their initial expectations. The topics ranged from explanations of how cancer cells trick the immune system to methods of extracting gold from the ground using plants.

Besides choosing a finalist and a runner-up, the jury also awarded a prize for the best student presentation. The audience participated by choosing one winner for the audience award.

Contestants were judged for content, clarity, and charisma
Contestants were judged for content, clarity, and charisma
Mohammed Yahia

Each of the finalists brought their own approach to science communication. Some employed carefully crafted props to deliver the message whereas others went for a comic edge. Mai Megahed, who was one of the finalists, used a storytelling approach. She won the audience award, with near unanimous support from attendees, for her presentation.

"Everyone likes stories, and they always remember them longer. That is why I feel storytelling is a powerful way to deliver an important piece of science to a non-scientific audience," said Megahed, who is studying for her Doctor of Medicine degree in the Faculty of Science at Monofeya University.

Hazem Shoireh, who is a resident of neuropsychiatry at the Abbasia Hospital for Psychological and Neurological Disorders, was the final winner of the evening. His presentation was about the use of the imagination to reach out and treat comatose patients. He will now move on to represent Egypt in the international portion of the competition.

All ten participating finalists received iPhones and netbooks as prizes. The winner and runner-up both also received a fully-paid trip to the United Kingdom to attend FameLab International.

As hundreds of attendees cheered for the winners after the competition, television crews that were covering the event gathered around them for interviews.

"As you see, the event was very successful," said Paul Smith, who is director of the British Council in Egypt. "This is the first year but FameLab Egypt will definitely return"