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Public elects TU/e PhD candidate best Dutch science communicator

Eriola-Sophia Shanko, PhD candidate at Mechanical Engineering, has won the audience award at the FameLab national final 2020. Her FameLab journey ends here; the Netherlands will send the jury’s favorite, Liza Cornet from Leiden University, to the international final in Great Britain. Note the fact that in the national final Shanko presented not her own work, with which she won the FameLab TU/e heat, but that of her colleagues.

photo Angeline Swinkels

The FameLab is a science communication contest that asks scientists to present a scientific project to a broad audience in three minutes. The twist to this is that no PowerPoint or video or audio material can be used. This makes it particularly difficult as no results can be shown but must be explained. The event is organized by the British Council.

Owing to coronavirus, the event was online. Christian van der Krift (IE&IS) and Eriola-Sophia Shanko, winners of the FameLab TU/e heat in April, were asked to send a digital pitch to a team at the University of Groningen, this year's national organizers.

Candidates usually explain their own scientific projects as this is what they know best. For the TU/e FameLab, Shanko took this approach; she presented her PhD project. For the final, however, she decided to explain someone else’s PhD work. “I did this for two reasons,” Shanko says. “I am a PhD candidate at the Microsystems section of the Mechanical Engineering department. In our group we have some really cool projects, either on fundamental research or application-driven. I felt that the audience deserved to hear about more of our projects and not just my own, which is what I had already presented at the TU/e FameLab. In addition, I wanted to take this opportunity to challenge myself; take myself out of my comfort zone.”


A brave choice, but not without its consequences. “First, I had to learn a lot about the project; second, I had to ensure that no sensitive information was shared as this is a project that concerns glaucoma patients; and, last but not least, I had to feel confident that I fully understood it. Thankfully, both Professor Jaap den Toonder and Inês Pereira Figueiredo, supervisor of the project and the PhD candidate working on it, were very helpful. They kindly contributed their time and shared their knowledge with me. I would like to publicly thank them for doing this.”

The International FameLab final 2020 will take place during the online Cheltenham Festival in November. Shanko will not be participating. “In the international phase, each country sends a single representative. Given that another candidate was the jury’s favorite, that's the person who will be representing the Netherlands in November. Thus, my FameLab journey ends here. It has been a fabulous learning experience though, so I'm very happy.”

Had she been asked to pitch at the international event, she would have chosen yet another project from the Microsystems section. “As mentioned already, we have some really cool projects that deserve to be shared, and it would be a pity if I explained only one.”

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