A large stage, four curious judges and 10 contestants with only three minutes to perform.
It may sound like “American Idol,” but this contest is for young scientists, and it’s right here at RPI’s EMPAC Theater.
• What: ‘FameLab: Exploring Earth and Beyond’
• When: Tuesday, July 29, 7 p.m.
• Where: RPI’s EMPAC Theater, 110 8th St., Troy
• How much: Free
• Info: empac.rpi.edu
It’s called FameLab, and it’s a competition where scientists must communicate intricate topics in layman’s terms in three minutes’ time in front of a panel of judges. No slides or charts are allowed, and the stories must be interesting and hold the attention of everyday folk.
“The challenge to the FameLabbers is to communicate to a lay audience and craft an interpretation for what they do,” said Daniella Scalice, Education and Public Outreach Lead for the NASA astrobiology program. “We have three primary judging criteria — content, clarity and charisma. Obviously, science needs to be accurate, and ability to weave a story and message and convey the passion.”
Contestants may tell stories about why there are no aliens on Earth, how fish can help humans hear, the possibility of life on moons or the crusty white stuff often found on a showerhead. A panel of experts in science and science communication will do the judging. The stories cannot be dull or boring to a non-science audience, but must be entertaining — jokes are allowed. The topic of this year’s contest is “Exploring Earth and Beyond.”
The purpose behind the competition isn’t to find the best scientist, but to find new voices for science across the world. However, Scalice stresses it’s not their intention to take scientists away from doing science.
“Our intention is to provide an opportunity to enrich their communication skills and become better at explaining what they do to a variety of audiences,” she said.
It all started in 2005 in the United Kingdom at the Cheltenham Science Festival —the UK’s leading science festival.
“They realized they needed a steady stream of good, talented young scientists to speak at the festival,” Scalice said. “Someone came up with the idea of the competition and realized the competition was the hit of the festival. They incorporated the idea and started to export it all over the world.”
The RPI event is the kickoff of “Season 3” here in the United States. The contestants are graduate students from various universities including RPI, the University at Albany and other area colleges.
“We go to a university and hold a regional competition. The U.S. has done four to six regional heats a year,” Scalice explains. “Each country does a version of this.”
About 20-25 people will compete in the morning. Approximately 10 will be selected and will perform that evening in front of a public audience and judges. Winners from the FameLab regional competition will face off in April 2016 for a chance to compete with peers from around the world at the FameLab International Final in the UK in June 2016.
Scalice said the event gives scientists a chance to share their enthusiasm about science and make it more relatable to others motivating young scientists to stay actively engaged with the public.
“Obviously people interested in science will find this really unique and engaging — it’s not your average science program, but we love it when kids come. There is a lot of role modeling going on. If parents and teachers can bring them, we love to see kids,” Scalice said.
A reception takes place after the event where the FameLabbers can mingle with the audience.
“We often have kids coming up to the FameLabbers,” Scalice said. “These are young, unique, enthusiastic and passionate scientists representative of America.”
“FameLab: Exploring Earth and Beyond” takes place on Tuesday, July 29, at 7 p.m., with a reception to follow. EMPAC is located on the RPI campus at 110 Eighth St. in Troy. Admission and parking are free.