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Science is everything but boring. The living proof lies in Bert Vercnocke’s enthusiastic pitch on string theory last Friday, 22 April. With this pitch, he outshone his fellow finalists during the Dutch final of FameLab, the biggest science communication competition in the world. As a result, Bert will represent the Netherlands during the international final at Cheltenham Science Festival in the United Kingdom.

Bert Vercnocke
Bert Vercnocke, string theory group Amsterdam University/Delta ITP

Over the past months, hundreds of young scientists and engineers have presented a scientific concept to a general audience during several regional heats in the Netherlands. It was not about dumbing it down so a two-year-old could understand it but rather about bringing it to life in a way that makes people want to love it. The FameLab regional heats resulted in twelve national finalists. Bert Vercnocke, postdoctoral researcher in theoretical physics at the University of Amsterdam, was judged the winner. 

Bert about his FameLab experience: 'What got me very interested a few months ago was the prospect of a two-day science conmmunication master class for the Dutch finalists. But thanks to my FameLab participation, more great opportunities are coming my way. I have already learned a lot, and in the next month I'll be presenting similar short pitches in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. I am really looking forward to the Cheltenham festival, to new experiences and ways to spread that science enthousiasm!' 

String theory in 3 minutes

The judges praised Bert for his content, charisma and ability to communicate the complexity of his research on string theory with great clarity. All in less than 3 minutes. Pitches of the other contestants varied from research on a new method of replacing blood vessels, to ground-breaking research on nanotechnology, to the effects of mindfulness on eating habits. The second UvA finalist who competed in the national final was chemist Jurn Heinen, PhD candidate at the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Science. His pitch was about the scientific explanation of the difference between 98 and 95 rated petrol. Timothy Sondej, research student in neuroscience at the University of Groningen, won the NTR Audience Award.

The award ceremony. c: FameLab NL

FameLab competition

The Dutch edition of FameLab Netherlands 2016 was organised by the British Council together with the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), VSNU, broadcasting company NTR and seven Dutch research universities. The international edition takes place on 8 and 9 June in the United Kingdom.

Bert: 'On 8 June I will take part in the international semi-finals. The best ten candidates will compete in the final the day after. I need to prepare two different pitches, which can, but need not, be based on the two pitches I have already given. I plan to improve those pitches in content and presentation, and practice in front of a live audience of friends, like I did before the Dutch final. The best of the two I want to save for the final, hoping that I get through of course.'

Bert rehearsing his presentation for the camera of Dutch Science TV (De Kennis van Nu)