I always enjoy explaining complex matters in a way everyone can understand. The real challenge in the Science Slam was to make an entertaining presentation, while discussing a subject matter as serious as cancer is. I myself enjoyed it – and I believe the audience did as well.
What is a Science Slam?
You might be familiar with a poetry slam, and a science slam has a similar concept. Such events focus on presenting one’s thoughts, poetry, or, in the case of science slams, one’s research subject to a lay audience. These competitions take place at the regional level, ie, in the country’s main cities (which usually have their own universities). There is then a national round, and finally one at the European level.
Presentations should take around 6 minutes (maximum duration was 8 minutes) and use of PowerPoint was not allowed. Both rules are incredibly challenging for scientists: This is very little time to describe any topic; there is certainly no way of presenting all the circumstances one has to consider as a scientist. Contextualizing in our usual style would take up at least the entire time of the presentation, without ever actually getting to ones research object. The main task thus was not to put together material for the performance, but actually cutting it down to the essentials.
And a scientific lecture without PowerPoint? “Not possible,” one is inclined to think. How could one explain these complex relationships between, say, the room temperature, the vocal pitch, and the size of the glottises? And by the way: our German neighbors are allowed to use PowerPoint in their Science Slams! But the guidelines restrict us here to a well-formulated and simple verbal presentations. This forces the speaker to be considerably more expressive and use clearer language than would be expected in written form or with the aid of graphs. Well, for the benefit of the performers and the audience!
The Major Role of Coincidence
But what I found most fascinating, as we saw ourselves randomly assembled at a joint preparatory meeting, was the combination of research subjects. I was a medical doctor who wanted to play a bacterium, E. coli, and explain how bacteria in the bowel can affect the development of cancer in other parts of the body. Elisabeth Monamy was an archaeologist who reported on nutrition from the Stone Age, Mesopotamia, Roman times, the Wikings and, of course, the palaeontic diet. Maria Rath, a student of the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, who, focusing on the water waste economy, gave us a clear idea of the disposal of our excrements and the necessary technologies. Then there were Julia Grübler, a trade scientist who demonstrated the effects of trade agreements, using chlorinated chicken as an example; and a whole team from the university of applied sciences, who developed an intelligent drinking glass to remind and motivate seniors to drink sufficient fluids. You could better plan a speaker pannel for a research conference.
And then came the evening of 3 April 2017 in the Metropol. We were trained, as stage novices, in stage technology and procedures. Each according to their own disposition- some still rehearsing or otherwise getting ready for their performance, while others were joking and making fun of their stage props and make-up. I was joyfully excited, and I felt well prepared. Only my voice was still a little bit damaged, high-pitched and struggling with my vocal cords paresis, which has accompanied me since autumn.
The drawn lot wanted me first on stage. Well, here I am!
All of the evening’s presentations are available on YouTube: