The international FameLab competition has chosen its South African winner for 2016. Nozipho Gumbi from Eshowe (KZN), a PhD candidate at Unisa, will be travelling to the United Kingdom (UK) to go up against 30 country winners for the international title.
FameLab, referred to as a ‘Pop Idols for scientists’ invites young academics (21-35) to present their science in less than three minutes, hence developing their skills for engaging with the public.
Gumbi, who is currently studying nanotechnology at Unisa, was the overall favourite as she dazzled the audience and the judges with her engaging talk on water filtration using carbon nanotubes. Her abstract was entitledCarbon nanotube-based membranes for brackish groundwater desalination and the removal of specific micropollutants in water. “I think what really stood out for the judges and rest of the audience is its relevance and promising solutions that it presents towards solving real-life problems that face South Africans and the world with regards to water scarcity and diminishing water quality. The manner in which I conveyed the message was clear and easy for everyone to follow,” she explained.
Gumbi is extremely excited to be the one student who won FameLab amongst many other worthy contenders. “I’m very happy that the hard work I’ve put into making my FameLab presentations really stand out has finally paid off. It hasn’t been easy, especially considering that the other contenders’ talks were unique and exceptional in their own way. I’m just so grateful that my talk was seen by the judges as the best fit to represent South Africa at the international FameLab finals.”
The final of the South African leg took place in front of a capacity audience at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. The journey for the 10 finalists began earlier this year. Science communication trainings around the country were facilitated by Jive Media Africa, an independent science communication agency supported by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) and the British Council in South Africa. Regional heats were held around the country, from Limpopo to the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, and the Western Cape, with video entries for those living far from a heat. Only 19 contestants were chosen to go through to the semi-finals, which took place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre on 22 March 2016. The contestants all stepped up their presentations, leaving the judges with the very difficult task of selecting just 10 finalists.
Gumbi’s FameLab experience has been more than just walking away with the winning title. She explained that she learnt the importance of conveying her scientific research in a very clear and relatable manner for the general public audience to understand. “In that way it encourages and allows for open engagement and access to possible funding from stakeholders who may be in the room and listening to your talk,” she said.
With her R5000 prize money, Gumbi plans to put a large portion of it towards her savings and the remainder of it will be used to treat herself to something special.
Unisa is all about defining tomorrow for its students and Gumbi is no exception. She is grateful that Unisa is defining her tomorrow, and in turn, she is defining her own. “Unisa has helped in shaping my tomorrow by exposing me to opportunities like FameLab where I got to be trained by the UK’s top science communicator, Malcolm Love. This has helped shape my scientific communication skills and boost my confidence in public speaking and engagement, not just in delivering scientific talks but any form of talks, in general. I’m also defining my tomorrow and I plan to rank among the best female science researchers in South Africa and globally, as well as the best science communicator and a motivator for young science students to pursue careers in science,” she affirmed.
It seems Gumbi’s journey has only just begun. She will soon be packing her bags and jetting off to the UK for the FameLab International finals hosted by Cheltenham Festivals in June. Humble, yet confident, Gumbi acknowledged the other candidates, saying “each and every one of you could have been the winner tonight”. She’s also looking forward to yet another exciting experience and to meet with other FameLab finalists from across the globe. “I’m mostly looking forward to the judges’ comments after my talk, as this has always helped in shaping and improving my other talks going forward. Also their suggestions and inputs always help me to improve other areas of my research study so I’m really looking forward to having a great time in UK,” she said.
*By Kirosha Naicker
*Additional information by Jive Media Africa