Announcing Irish Research Council-funded Deirdre Robertson as the new face of science in Ireland

Dublin-based scientist, Deirdre Robertson, who is funded by the Irish Research Council, has been named the national winner of FameLab Ireland – the prestigious competition which aims to discover charismatic, up-and-coming scientists who inspire people to see the world from a new perspective. Deirdre will represent Ireland at the International Finals at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK, where Ireland already has an impressive track record. Supported by the British Council and Science Foundation Ireland, FameLab is providing this post-doctoral researcher with the skills to share her research with a wider audience.

Deirdre was selected by an esteemed judging panel from nine other new science communicators at the fifth FameLab Ireland national finals at the Science Gallery Dublin on Thursday 13 April. Each contestant delivered a three minute talk judged according to content, clarity and charisma. During her 180 seconds Deirdre presented on ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete: Unfreezing the Brain’, explaining the process of visual cueing; a rehabilitation technique used to assist those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The brain differentiates between automatic versus goal-oriented movements and research has shown that simply by placing lines on the ground, patients’ brains often ‘unfreeze’ and their bodies become mobile again. They follow the line as they walk and the seemingly broken auto-pilot systems are overturned.

Deirdre is a post-doctoral researcher in psychology at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. Her current research investigates how the mind affects the body, often without awareness, and what impact this can have on health, particularly as people get older. Before moving to Trinity, Deirdre spent a year working as a post-doctoral researcher in Columbia University in New York. She believes in the power of scientific research to inform policy and to make positive changes to people’s lives.

Second and third place were awarded to Joanne Duffy, an Irish Research Council-funded postgraduate scholar at NUIG and TCD undergraduate Ross Murphy. This year’s finalists had chosen a mind-expanding selection of topics to bring under the microscope – from the physics behind Guinness, to the bigger questions behind cell replacement, and the science of figs. 

Communicating science accessibly and attractively is an ever-growing priority for researchers and others working in and studying science worldwide. Organised by the British Council Ireland and funded through the Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover programme, FameLab helps emerging scientists acquire valuable skills to communicate their work to a non-scientific audience. By doing so, they not only change the common stereotype of the scientist as ‘the geek in the white lab coat busy doing strange things’, but ‘also justify public funding for their work. 

The FameLab winners from all participating countries will compete in June at the International Finals at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK. FameLab is an initiative of the Cheltenham Festivals started in 2005 in partnership with NESTA and has quickly grown into arguably the world’s leading science communication competition. A partnership with the British Council since 2007 has seen the competition go global with more than 10,000 young scientists and engineers participating in over 35 different countries. NASA has license to deliver the competition in the USA. For more information about FameLab, please visit: www.britishcouncil.ie/famelab

You can also keep up with all of the action by following @famelab_ireland and join the conversation using #FameLab.