Microbiologist and honey expert Dr Nural Cokcetin has been named the country’s best young science communicator at the Australian final of FameLab, an international competition sponsored by the British Council.
Dr Cokcetin also won the audience choice award with her presentation, The sweet treat(ment) for your microbiome, at last night’s event at the WA Maritime Museum. She will now compete in the international final, to be held in the UK next month.
Eleven finalists from Australian universities and the CSIRO each had three minutes to tell their stories to the judges, armed only with their wits and a few props.
Dr Cokcetin used a colourful rendering of gut bacteria – as seen on “Poo Tube” – to explain her research in the ithree institute at the University of Technology Sydney where she focuses on the antimicrobial and prebiotic properties of honey.
She said her win was the “icing on the cake” after two days of training and networking to build confidence in talking about her research.
“It makes me so happy to see that people can connect with my research and can see the immediate impact it can have in their lives. This morning I've received so many messages from people in the audience to say that they had their spoonful of honey for a healthy gut this morning - I can't wipe the smile off my face.”
Dr Cokcetin said the therapeutic uses of honey – as a prebiotic for a healthy gut and as an antibacterial agent for infections caused by superbugs – has been her research focus for several years.
“It makes me hopeful that there is such a huge interest from the public to really drive this research forward. I can't wait to get back in the lab and get more results to share with everyone.”
Helen O’Neil, director of the British Council in Australia which sponsors the competition, said the final was a “truly wonderful night for science communication … from some of the country’s brightest minds. But it was Nural who stood out to the judges on the three key criteria of content, clarity and charisma.”
The runner-up was Andrew Katsis, from Deakin University, for his work on behaviour adaptations in birds and how they might help to predict species’ responses to extreme conditions occurring with climate change. An honourable mention was given to Bronwyn Ayre, of the University of Western Australia, for her research into the pollination of kangaroo paw plants.
Professor Liz Harry, Director of the ithree institute in the UTS Faculty of Science, said: “In the ithree institute we are focused not only on high-quality science but also on being great communicators of that science to the public. It opens doors and brings often unexpected research opportunities.
“Nural has an exceptional talent for communicating her science. I was particularly impressed by her use of Poo Tube as an attention grabber. And what also made her stand out in my opinion was that in answering the judges’ questions she demonstrated the rigour she applies to her science and to the interpretation of the data – this is first-class research practice.”
UTS was the only university to have two researchers in the final. Naomi Koh Belic’s presentation – Multiple sclerosis: a disease in a … dish? – explained her work to use stem cells extracted from fat to aid understanding of MS.
The FameLab final was judged by Helen O’Neil, ABC Science broadcaster Robyn Williams and former WA Chief Scientist Professor Lyn Beazley. Astronomer Alan Duffy was MC.