An evening of science and fun

Harini Barath

Snippets from the live finals of the 2015 EURAXESS Science Slam India.

The six finalists of the 2015 Science Slam India
The six finalists of the 2015 Science Slam India   (Photo: EURAXESS Links India)

The auditorium of Alliance française de Bangalore was abuzz with chatter as people filed in. The crowd, which was largely made up of scientists—students and professors alike—and a handful of engineers, doctors and teachers, had gathered together for an evening of science and fun. Six young researchers were nervously preparing to take the stage and share their work with all assembled. Everyone had to understand their research and be entertained by their presentation. The one who managed it best would be the 2015 EURAXESS Science Slam India winner.

Ainhitze Bizkarralegorra Bravo, Country Representative, EURAXESS Links India opened the event with an introduction to EURAXESS - Researchers in Motion. She walked the audience through the format of the event—the contestants would present, following which the audience would be divided in groups that each selected one winner after some discussion and deliberation. The ultimate winner was the one who got the most votes from the groups. In case of a tie, the review panel, which had previously helped to select the 6 finalists, would help resolve it and pick a winner. “The Science Slam provides an opportunity for young researchers to tell people about their research, but with the freedom to decide how to express themselves. It also gives them an opportunity to explore their own talents in ways that they would not have otherwise,” said Karthik Ramaswamy, Visiting Scientist at IISc and one of the members of the review panel.

Arnab Bhattacharya from the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, a member of the review panel took the stage for a demo Slam. He said that the Science Slam was a “wonderful celebration of science that brings people together.” He went on to add that events like this bring scientists out of their lab to share their work, adding, “Most scientists in India work with public money and the public have a right to know what we do.”

The final presentations followed, and covered a whole spectrum of disciplines in quick succession—astrophysics, cognition, disease risk, gravitational waves, animal cloning and animal behavior. Props, music, songs, zany software, demos—some live and others videotaped and even a dance were used to tell the stories of their science. Bollywood made its ever-popular presence felt in the references that peppered the talks. One talk, for instance, adopted the script of a popular movie (DDLJ) while examining whether ones DNA poses a risk of disease. There was time for questions after every “talk”. Technical questions were discouraged—the idea was to keep things light. The audience and the panel worked hard to come up with witty questions. “The level of informality that was stressed upon and executed during presentations was very new to me. I always enjoy any chance of learning something new, and all the presentations had much to offer. Each one of them introduced me to a new topic in varying degrees of rigour. That was very stimulating,” said Rajashree Nori, an aspiring science writer. She went on to add that all the presenters had managed to get people talking about their work—a good sign of public engagement.

After a flurry of discussion, the audience took a break for dinner and networking before the voting commenced. While more than one contestant earned votes, Souvik Mandal from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, won the Slammer title with the most votes. Mandal studies wasps and attempts to learn how they find their way back home to their nests after foraging. His use of Prezi, a storytelling tool, and his guitar caught the audience’s attention. “I have learnt a lot about science communication. For me, the most cardinal lesson was to choose my words carefully and find a suitable method for presenting my work. When I won, I was happy because it meant that I had probably been able to successfully convey my research to the audience,” said Mandal.

The EURAXESS Science Slam India 2015 has been organized by EURAXESS Links India in partnership with the Indian Institute of Science and IndiaBioscience, and the support of Finnair, Philips Innovation Campus and Alliance française de Bangalore.

Written By

Physicist turned science writer. I enjoy writing about interdisciplinary research and interviewing scientists about science and careers in science.