You have three minutes to explain the known universe… Go!

by Emily Donohue on July 28, 2014

Great communication about science neatly and elegantly explains immensely complex concepts (think: Neil DeGrasse Tyson at his best) in language that non-scientists can understand and relate to.

Great communication about science is also really difficult to do. Science is messy, complex concepts are interconnected, and knowledge is constantly growing and changing. The nature of a scientist’s job is to have a laser focus on one particular subject and seek to expand knowledge in that area. That’s great for scientific progress, but not so great for explaining the broader picture of the universe to laypeople.

Making the complexities of science accessible to non-scientists is a skill that can — and must — be honed among scientists so that regular people can understand the ways in which the puzzle pieces of knowledge fit together and impact their lives. At RPI, a group of young scientists (graduate students, post-docs, and early-career scientists) will be working toward that goal on Tuesday, July 29, as they participate in NASA’s FameLab USA event on campus.

FameLab asks scientists to explain a concept or area of research to a lay crowd in three minutes or less, without the use of any slides or charts, in an engaging and entertaining — but also scientifically valid — way. The contestants will do this in front of a panel of judges who will ask questions and offer critiques of each contestant. FameLab says it’s like ‘American Idol,’ but for science.

To get an idea of what the event will be like, check out this video of the most recent national finals (the first contestant begins at 28:00):

FameLab USA National Final

RPI’s FameLab event is one of a series of regional competitions. The winners of those regional competitions will move on to a national competition.

The competition is from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, July 29, at EMPAC. It is free and open to the public and promises to be an interesting and entertaining time.