Ed Roberts, and the inner cure, selected as regional FameLab finalist

Graduate Division

UCSF postdoctoral scholar Ed Roberts championed the third season of FameLab USA’s San Francisco regional heat in December, earning a spot as a finalist in the Spring 2016 national finals.

Described as “American Idol for scientists,” FameLab originally was established in 2005 in the United Kingdom to promote scientific communication to the public and encourage public engagement with science. Since 2012, FameLab has partnered with NASA to host competitions in the U.S.

The two-day event hosted 14 early career scientists who were passionate about science in conjunction with the 2014 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. FameLab competitors were given three minutes to present sans PowerPoint, printed images, or other forms of visual or electronic media.
Captivating the crowd with his talk on using our own immune systems to fight cancer, Roberts was also voted audience favorite.  A few props, his passion for outreach, and a voice were the only things at his disposal.

Roberts’ first-round presentation was on vaccination. He and seven other participants then were chosen for an evening round at Rickshaw Stop, where Roberts drew further from his expertise in tumor immunology.

“I think there are a lot of public misunderstandings around vaccination so I wanted to talk about that and I think that tumor immunology is an exciting field but that people are generally not well informed about it,” Roberts said.

Roberts’ own experience with outreach began while he was a doctoral student at Cambridge University and a part time youth worker in the U.K. “I was struck by how many [young people] hated science and thought it was boring, and so I started doing workshops with kids in youth groups about immunology to try and engage them with science,” he said.

In this mode of action, other UCSF students are taking advantage of opportunities to engage the community and share their passions and interests. Freeman Lan, a bioengineering Ph.D. student, also participated at FameLab USA. Lan’s presentations were on how to survive a nuclear winter and viruses as deadly mutants.

Creating the groundwork for a great FameLab talk often involves framing scientific concepts through a relatable lens. Other contestants spoke of counting stars for gravity, pole vaulting for quantum tunneling, and diet and exercise for Planet Earth.

FameLab USA’s first regional heat was in Troy, N.Y. Future participants will have the chance to compete at regional heats held in Stony Brook, N.Y.; Chicago; and online. The winner of the April 2016 nationals will go on to the Famelab International Final in June 2016.