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Science & Technology

Science slammers battle it out in German title

In a whirlwind mix of comedy and theory, the final of the German science slam saw seven scientists present their research in front of a sold out crowd. It's proof science can be fun.

Science slams in Germany are turning into cult events.

A thousand people - many of whom had travelled from all over the country for the event - crammed into a hall on the weekend for the sold out science slam final.

But despite the science factor, geeks were few and far between.

Dressed in hoodies and nursing bottles of beer, the crowd was more what you would expect from an indie music concert, rather than a series of scientific presentations. But making science interesting to a wider audience is what science slams are all about.

"Science slam is a new way to communicate science," says Anja Brockert, a journalist at SWR radio who co-organized the German final held in Karlsruhe on Friday, November 2, 2012.

"The information should be funny [and] you should present your research project in a way that the audience understands even though it maybe complicated."

Anyone of any age can take part in a science slam.

The rules

The event really only has two rules. First, the participants have to present their own research and second, they only have a limited amount of time, usually ten minutes, for their talk and power point presentation. The audience then votes on who they think is the best.

Audience at Science Slam 2012, Karlsruhe (Photo: SWR/Peter A. Schmidt)

Listen, laugh... and vote for the best lecture!

The German final saw seven scientists, including a sociologist, a physicist and a biologist, battle it out for the title of Master of Slam.

Topics ranged from the taxonomy of lizards in the Panamanian rain forest to what factors influenced the verdicts of judges in German employment tribunals.

The research themes might sound dry, but the audience was in constant bales of laughter at the wordplays and jokes made up on stage.

Fast-talking neuroscientist Henning Beck earned first place for his presentation of his research on how helper cells in the brain support the communication of nerve cells. The 28 year old, who has just finished his PhD, says science slams are "awesome."

"It's incredible to stand on stage and give all the scientific content which is normally so difficult to communicate," he said after the event.

For Henning Beck, the science slam is a first step in forcing scientist to come out of their ivory towers.

"Every scientist needs to be able to communicate what he is doing," says Beck. "We are doing our research for the people."

Communication is king

Engineer Peter Westerhoff came second with his talk on hi-tech implants, such as artificial hips for instance, which are fitted with added instrumentation to measure the loads on joints.

Westerhoff says he likes being up on stage, but that it is only part of the attraction of the science slam.

Science Slam participant 2012, Karlsruhe (Photo: SWR/Peter A. Schmidt)

Communication is everything... that and winning

"I also enjoy listening to the other competitors from totally different disciplines and I learn things that I would never take a scientific paper about, say politics, or molecular chemistry," says Westerhoff.

And the audience was pretty taken with the event too. Many had travelled from all over Germany for the fast-paced tournament.

"When you normally go to university and attend a lesson, it's kind of boring, and not much of a show, but here [science] is presented in a totally different light, so I really appreciate that," said a young woman at the event.

The idea of the science slam has spread from Germany where it started around eight years ago to many other countries, such as Finland, Switzerland, Serbia and even India and Turkey.

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