Science Slam @ ECM 30 Basel

For the first time in the history of the European Crystallographic Meeting, a Science Slam session was held during this years ECM 30 in Basel. A Science Slam is short oral contribution which should be for the lay people as well as entertaining. Six candidates were chosen for this occasion who shed some light on their field of research. I have asked the initiator and a few contributors to share some of their thoughts on and experiences with the Science Slam.

Katharina Fromm (initiator, University of Fribourg, Switzerland):
Science Slams are great platforms for young – and old – researchers to present their work in an entertaining way such that also lay people can understand the problem and grasp the solution to it. Not only this, but it allows people also to remember the presented science as it is linked to “real life”. Who will ever forget the first ECM-science slam in which we learned that the pair-distribution-function can be nicely explained using the Street Parade as sample? What a nice way of sharing with other people what one is doing as a researcher.

Stefano Checchia (contributer, Università degli Studi di Milano):
With no hesitation, I admit Science Slam has been the most instructive part of my week in Basel. Six of us had the task to prepare a simple, three-minutes presentation of our own research work. It’s not hard, is it? Well, not easy either. First, you don’t compress all your work in a nutshell, because it can’t be compressed that much; pick three highlights instead. Second, think of real-world parallels that exemplify your concepts best; the simpler, the better, but don’t forget the link to the science underneath. Third, rehearse. Yes, it’s only three-minutes and you don’t have to learn formulas by heart. But unless you hold a Ph.D. in Improvisation, your presentation needs to be trimmed and distilled until you’re left with the very kernel of the stuff. When all of this happens, the audience can enjoy absolute gems of science-cum-comedy and cheer for the speaker on stage.
Me? When my turn came, I’m afraid I was still pushing my slides into a nutshell.

Gregor Hofer (contributor, ETH Zurich, Switzerland):
I found it quite challenging to compress and simplify my research topic into only three minutes. In preparation for the Science Slam, I watched several videos on youtube of other Sciences Slammer and asked myself: What is the central part of my research? So I focused almost exclusively on the main method I am using, the pair distribution function. I was also quite lucky that I was hit by a stroke of inspiration two weeks before the Slam.

Falk Meutzner (contributer, TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany):
The science slam was a completely new experience for me since I had by then never given a full presentation at a conference before and in front of such a big audience. It took a lot of iterations to complete the slides and the actual presenting, all under the question: How can I describe my field of science in the most easy/basic way. Therefore I split my topic into three parts: something everybody has heard of (batteries); something I was sure was so basic everyone with geometry knowledge from school could easily understand and finally doing some ‘magic’ somewhere inbetween these two very different fields.

Barbara Wicher (contributer, CBMN Université de Bordeaux, France):
From science slam I have learned that preparing three-minute speech is definitely not three-minute work. First, I had to forget about everything I knew about scientific presentation. In three minutes there is no time for intricacies of a results so I had to extract “bigger picture” of my research. Then I have been looking for analogy from “normal” life which everyone will be able to understand. Having these two ideas (after an about two weeks of thinking and fine-tuning) I have prepared presentation, keeping in mind that slides cannot be overcrowded and it will be great if I will be able to entertain the audience, at least, a little. I must say that being part of Science Slam Session at ECM was very refreshing experience, not only I was forced to look at my research from different angle but also other slammers presentations I found very interesting.


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