They say it’s all in the kiss.
And for Queen’s University Belfast student Emer Maguire, this certainly rang true, as she walked away with the FameLab Northern Ireland title last night.
The global science communication competition saw the 23-year-old battle it out against eight other science stars at Belfast’s Black Box before being crowned overall winner. She will now go forward to the prestigious UK final.
Her talk, which was based on the science of kissing and why we smooch, saw Emer delight and horrify the audience as she talked about immune systems, saliva and chemical cocktails.
The Strabane native, who is currently studying for a Masters in Clinical Anatomy, couldn’t believe her win.
Speaking after the competition, Emer said: “I’m still in shock. I can’t believe I’ve actually won, but I’m absolutely delighted and can’t wait to see where FameLab takes me. Tonight has been an unbelievable, but really enjoyable experience.
“When I walked into the Black Box this evening my initial reaction was to turn and run as I was ridiculously nervous, but once I got onto the stage I was fine and raring to go.”
Emer, who also works as a Speech and Language Therapist, had never really thought about a career in science communication until entering the competition.
She said: “FameLab has definitely made me think about my future. As a Speech and Language therapist, communication is vital; so I would love to be able to combine this and my Masters to make science more accessible and something everyone can experience. FameLab has given me the confidence to do this.”
Emer, who will head to the FameLab UK final in April, will also take part in an intensive two-day communication masterclass.
Speaking about the prize she said: “I’m really looking forward to competing again, but don’t ask me yet about my chosen topic! I choose kissing for FameLab Northern Ireland as I wanted to talk about something a little different and engaging, but something everyone can relate to.”
The winner however faced stiff competition from her peers, who covered everything from the Fifty Shades of Blue and the power to eat grass to golden jellyfish and bad blood. Hailing from Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, the Belfast Health Trust and Belfast Metropolitan College, the eight other finalists made the decision a difficult task for the FameLab judges.
The panel, made up of Steve Meyers, Head of CERN’s office of medical applications; independent broadcaster, Jim Fitzpatrick and Dr Joanne Stewart OBE, Director of Development at NI Science Park, however came to a unanimous decision.
Communicating science accessibly to a public audience is an ever-growing priority for researchers worldwide. Organised by British Council Northern Ireland, in partnership with the Cheltenham Science Festival and the inaugural Northern Ireland Science Festival, FameLab Northern Ireland helps scientists acquire valuable skills to communicate their work to a non-scientific audience and the media.
FameLab aims to discover charismatic scientists who inspire people to see the world from a new perspective...in just three minutes.
Speaking about the competition, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director at British Council Northern Ireland said: “Competitions such as FameLab help to engage the public in science and challenge perceptions.
“Through FameLab we can encourage a more STEM literate society and engage young people in international science opportunities, while also giving as many scientists and engineers the opportunity to engage with the public and develop their career with thousands of like-minded scientists around the world.
“Tonight’s final at Belfast’s Black Box demonstrates the breadth of talent and expertise available in Northern Ireland, and is something that should be celebrated. Hopefully this won’t be the last time we hear from any of our finalists and we look forward to bringing FameLab back to Northern Ireland next year.”
Also in attendance was the Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry.
He said: “I congratulate all the finalists of FameLab and thank the British Council for their work in bringing this prestigious competition to Northern Ireland for the first time as part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival. This is another example of how the Science Festival has been able to showcase our considerable Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) talent and skills.”
“Encouraging people to develop the skills and qualifications required in STEM-related careers are key to future economic growth and in attracting inward investors to Northern Ireland. I wish Emer the best of luck representing Northern Ireland at the next stage of the competition.”
Entertainment on the night was provided by Northern Ireland’s top mentalist, David Meade, who acting as compere, bamboozled the audience with his legendary mind tricks. He hosted on the back of his ground-breaking US TV special, where he cracked the Las Vegas casinos, and his current sold-out Northern Irish tour.
FameLab is an initiative of Cheltenham Festivals started in 2005, and has quickly grown into arguably the world’s leading science communication competition. A partnership with the British Council since 2007 has seen the competition go global with more than 5500 young scientists and engineers having participated from over 30 different countries. In 2015 FameLab is running in 29 countries, with NASA delivering the USA competition, and CERN organising a special CERN-only competition in Switzerland. Cheltenham Festivals and the British Council co-produce the FameLab International Grand Final held at the Cheltenham Science Festival each June.
Last night’s final was streamed live from British Council Northern Ireland’s website. If you missed the event you will be able to watch online at http://nirelandbritishcouncil.org. The event was part of the NI Science Festival which runs until this Sunday, March 1. For more information visit http://www.nisciencefestival.com.