A Queen's University Belfast student has been crowned the winner of the science communication competition, FameLab UK.
Emer Maguire, a Clinical Anatomy Masters student, took home the title in London last night (Wednesday, April 22) with a winning talk on the science of love.
She becomes the second female winner in the competition’s ten-year history.
Hailing from Strabane, the science star beat off stiff competition from nine other UK finalists, who had made it through from one of 20 regional heats, including the Northern Ireland FameLab final back in February. This heat, which was organised by British Council Northern Ireland in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Science Festival and Cheltenham Festival, saw Emer talk about the science of kissing and why we smooch.
She now goes home with £1750 to further her career in science communication and will also move on to the FameLab International Final at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival in June. Here she will compete with scientists from 27 countries around the world to be crowned overall FameLab champion.
Speaking from London about her FameLab UK win, Emer said: “I can’t actually believe I’ve won – I’m still in shock and I don't think it's sunk in just yet. I didn’t think I had a chance of winning and felt that I was a bit of an underdog, so this is unbelievable, but it feels amazing.
“I’m so proud to win the title for Northern Ireland and the support I’ve received has been unreal. My family held a big party in Strabane last night and live-streamed the final. I think they were all a bit emotional, with my mum and granny being very teary eyed, but it’s so nice to have them behind me.”
The 23-year-old, who explained why we’re not always to blame for acting a little crazy in love – seemed to click with more than just the judges however, as she also took home the audience vote.
She said: “I think people in the audience took to my topic as love is something everyone can relate to – but it’s probably my use of humour that really helped me win them over. My talk wasn’t even meant to be that funny and I was surprised by how many laughs I got.
“I’ve no idea how I’m going to top this in the International final, but it will definitely have something to do with human behaviour as this is what I’m passionate about and really interested in.”
So apart from FameLab International, what’s next for Emer?
She said: “In May I will be talking at the Pint of Science Festival in Dublin and then in November, I’ll be taking part in the first-ever TEDxOmagh event. I couldn’t have done any of this if I hadn’t entered FameLab, and I can’t wait to see where it takes my career in science communication.
“Aside for my Masters, I’m also a Speech and Language therapist, so hopefully through FameLab I can become some sort of stand-up scientist - teaching people about science through humour. My background is primarily in music and English and I only really got into science when I started my Masters last year. I think this helps me relate to the public as I’ve some understanding of what people are really interested in.
“Exciting, but busy times lie ahead!”
Speaking about Emer’s win, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director at British Council Northern Ireland said:
“This is an amazing achievement and I have to congratulate Emer on her outstanding win – she’s done incredibly well to get this far and has done Northern Ireland proud.
“Taking the FameLab UK title will not only do wonders for Emer’s career in science communication – but it’s also fundamentally important for raising the awareness of STEM education in Northern Ireland. 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.
“We’ll be supporting Emer all the way at the international final in June!”
Commending Emer on her achievement, Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry, said:
“This is another example of how the inaugural Northern Ireland Science Festival has been able to showcase our considerable local Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths talent and skills. Encouraging people to develop the skills and qualifications required in STEM-related careers is key to our future economic growth and in attracting inward investors to Northern Ireland. I wish Emer the best of luck representing the UK at the Famelab International Finals in June.”
Past Northern Ireland winners of the competition have gone on to great things. They include Simon Watt from Castlederg, who after winning FameLab Northern Ireland in 2005, went on to become a well-known biologist, writer, science communicator and TV presenter, most recently putting on three different science shows at the inaugural Northern Ireland Science Festival.
So who knows … Emer may even be Northern Ireland’s next Brian Cox or Alice Roberts!
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 27 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.
The FameLab UK final at the Bloomsbury Theatre can still be viewed online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ze4aRoLKzg (She was last up and appears around 1:39 or so.) For more information visit http://nireland.britishcouncil.org or follow on Twitter: BCouncil_NI. Emer’s winning talk at the FameLab NI final, which has also received over 2,000 views on YouTube, can also be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppLMEgaj9eA