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Students search for fame in the lab

9 April 2018
Showcasing talented young scientists
Four Sydney science students have reached the NSW FameLab semi-finals, a public speaking competition seeking to showcase creativity in science.
The University of Sydney FameLab Australia finalists: Alfonso Ballestas-Barrientos, Adrianne Jenner. Liam Scarratt and Kate Leslie.

The University's finalists: Alfonso Ballestas-Barrientos, Adrianne Jenner, Liam Scarratt and Kate Leslie. 

Famelab seeks to showcase creativity in science and will put the spotlight on 12 of NSW's brightest students on Wednesday 11 April at the Powerhouse Museum.

Among the 12 NSW finalists competing in FameLab are four University of Sydney science students from the Schools of Chemistry and Mathematics and Statistics. With research topics ranging from barnacle free sea surfaces to energy efficient hydrogen sources, the event will highlight the talents and expertise of young researchers in STEM.

Students will deliver short three-minute presentations on their research while being judged on FameLab's three C's: content, clarity and charisma. An esteemed panel of media professionals, and public figures will adjudicate the event, while Natasha Mitchell from the ABC will MC.

The University's finalists include Liam Scarratt, Alfonso Ballestas-Barrientos, Kate Leslie and Adrianne Jenner.

Kate Leslie, a chemistry PhD student, plans to present her research on the use of fluorophores as sensors in cells. Kate is currently studying alongside Associate Professor and Westpac Research Fellow Liz New to learn more about light emitting chemical compounds.

"I use fluorescent dyes to see what is happening inside cells, which is otherwise a very difficult task," she says.

"These molecules can be designed to report back (for example with a change of colour) on the existence of almost anything in cells. I am working on expanding the range of colours, as well as the brightness and the stability of these dyes so that researchers around the world will be able to choose the best tool possible for imaging biological events."

With the possibility that these dyes could detect cancerous cells, this research could have huge implications around the world and FameLab is the perfect setting to communicate the relevance of science study like this.

FameLab is such a fun way to immerse yourself in our awe inspiring world.
Helen Salmon, Director of the British Council in Australia

From detecting cancers to treating them, another University of Sydney finalist and PhD candidate Adrianne Jenner is investigating how mathematics can be used to understand and improve three innovative cancer treatments.

"Using mathematical modelling, my research investigates how different treatment regimens and heterogeneity within tumours can affect the outcome of treatment. I look at how we can recreate realistic simulations of the interaction between tumour cells and cancer therapies by fitting mathematical models to experimental data," says Adrianne.

"I hope to help the community by discovering ways in which current experimental cancer treatments can be improved. I also hope that my research will highlight how useful mathematical modelling can be, and that we can obtain invaluable insight into biology and medicine through the use of mathematics."

The winner of the NSW competition will be announced on the night and will have the opportunity to compete in the national FameLab final at the Octagon theatre, UWA in Perth on May 10 2018. Once confirmed, the Australian winner will compete at the International Finals in the UK in June.

A fantastic event celebrating STEM, FameLab was created by Cheltenham Festivals in the UK and has grown into the world's leading science communication competition. A partnership with the British Council since 2007 has seen the competition go global with more than 9000 young scientists and engineers participating to date.

Helen Salmon, Director of the British Council in Australia, said, "FameLab is such a fun way to immerse yourself in our awe inspiring world. Australian Dr Nural Cokcetin (2017 Global Runner Up) said a beaming schoolgirl told her she had no idea that she could be creative and still be a scientist!"

Creative scientists are at the cutting edge of Australia's innovation economy, and many of them will change our lives through their work."

Keep an eye on our Faculty of Science social media accounts to catch the live action from the NSW finals and to find out how our student finalists faired.