Balancing the equation

Article | Updated 5 days ago

It is April and so it must be time for the FameLab semi-finals – and it was, again, last night! A packed crowd (literally, there was a significant waiting list for tickets) at the WA Maritime Museum gathered to watch nine exceptional young scientists give insights into their important and in many cases ground-breaking research.

In case you missed it, FameLab is jointly presented by the British Council and Cheltenham Festivals, and the national foundation partners are the WA Museum and the McCusker Charitable Foundation, here in WA. We proudly brought the competition to Australia in 2014 – with not a little prodding from Professor Lyn Beazley – and we have never looked back.

We will be hosting the National final, again at the WA Maritime Museum, on May 4. Watch out for tickets becoming available – they are free, but you will need to register for one to get in because demand always outstrips supply.

Last night, eight scientists from WA universities and one from South Australia presented innovative work on such subjects as: echidna conservation; helping women deal with negative body perceptions; the perils of parasites in invasive species; petrophysics; trapdoor spiders; and catastrophic wildfires.

After much debate and competition – and some searching questions from the judges (who included me) – the People’s Choice winner was Chaminda Ranasinghe of Edith Cowan University on how analysis of blood proteins is being investigated as a predictor of early onset dementia.

Ifrah Abdullahi from the Telethon Kids Institute and UWA was chosen as runner-up by the judges for her work on addressing the disparity in autism diagnosis and treatment between immigrant and non-immigrant families.

The overall winner, however, was Bronwyn Ayre also from UWA. Her work on the pollination of certain species of WA’s rare fauna by vertebrates is providing real insight into the conservation management of some of the critical elements of Australia’s South West – one of only two World Biodiversity Hotspots in Australia. Bronwyn and Ifrah will return for the National final on May 4 and, who knows, there may be at least one more wildcard promoted through from last night’s semi-final?

The standard of presentation was higher than ever – each candidate being marked on the three C’s – content, clarity and charisma. What was particularly interesting was the fact that seven of the nine semi-finalists were women. At a time when the clarion call is to get more women to follow science degrees and careers in science, this is really encouraging and, although she could not be there, I know that Lyn Beazley will be really proud of that!

The Semi-Finalists

The Semi-Finalists
Image copyright FameLab