Monash students on a winning streak in global science competition, FameLab

Two Monash University students have taken out the top gongs in Victoria for the international science competition, FameLab.

Sarah Belet from the School of Mathematics was named the Victorian winner of the competition by the panel of judges for her presentation on ‘Maths, medicine and mosquito sex’ .

Dr Ben Sinclair from the Department of Neuroscience won the public vote for his presentation entitled ‘Enabling exercise’.

They will both now compete against the winners of the other states and territories for Australian honours in the final this Wednesday, 29 April.

FameLab - which was started in the UK by the Cheltenham Science Festival - brings together scientists and engineers from 30 countries, providing a unique opportunity for participants to talk about their research to a public audience via short video submissions, with the three key measures of success being Content, Clarity and Charisma.

Ms Belet – a 25-year-old mathematician currently in the final six months of her MPhil in Applied Mathematics and Statistics – said her goal was to take a very serious global issue and talk about it in a way that would stand out and provoke ongoing conversation.

“My mathematical modelling work focuses on mosquitoes who are bred to carry a bacterium called Wolbachia, which has been proven to block dengue virus transmission, and I wanted to communicate this in a memorable way which left people not only understanding the issue better, but also feeling compelled to talk about it with their friends,” she said.

Australia’s FameLab Project Director, Melissa Callanan, said the judging panel for Victoria was impressed by Ms Belet’s left-of-field yet effective presentation, resulting in a consistently high score across the board.

“The way in which Sarah has used mathematical modelling and applied it to an extreme global health issue really stood out, and to then be able to take this work and communicate it in such an engaging way was very impressive – she really ticked all the boxes of what we’re looking for in this competition,” said Ms Callanan.

A Research Fellow in the Department of Neuroscience, Dr Sinclair was awarded first place in the public vote segment of Victorian applicants for his engaging presentation on using exercise as a treatment for brain disease.

His video showcases the benefits of the Isodynamics Companies rehabilitation machine called The Reviver, which allows people with impairments in their balance and mobility to get a strong workout through gravity and reflex muscle contractions.

The futuristic-looking device tilts people off balance and rotates them through the gravitational field, activating muscle groups that have become disengaged. Targeting those who would benefit from exercise the most, but are least able to engage in rigorous exercise like sufferers of parkinsons, stroke and also the elderly, the trials monitor improvements to balance, mobility and sensory-motor coordination.

“If exercise were a pill, it would be the best-selling pill of all time” said Dr Sinclair.

The national final of Australia’s FameLab 2020 is on Wednesday 29 April, with voting open to the public on Thursday 30 April from 2pm on the Foundation for the WA Museum website here.