UCT Inventor Achieves Success at Science Slam

10 Jan 2014 - 17:15


rustenberg memorialSlammin': John Woodland, a PhD student from the chemistry department, believes events like Science Slam and Falling Walls Lab, present excellent opportunities to get the public excited and inspired about science.

Enthusiasm, a lack of jargon, good diagrams and effective animations were used by UCT doctoral student, John Woodland, to excite school children about science at South Africa's first Science Slam competition held in Johannesburg recently.

Science Slams - inspired by Poetry Slams in which poets compete against each other by reciting their poetry - were developed in Germany in 2006 and have since gained popularity around the world. Woodland was one of six German and South African postgraduate and postdoctoral presenters who each had 10 minutes to take science out of the lab and promote its everyday applications.

Woodland, who studies chemical biology, was placed second after he spoke about his research into the development of a fluorescent probe to detect free haem, an iron-containing compound which forms the non-protein part of haemoglobin (red blood cells) and some other biological molecules. Free haem can be a very toxic molecule and has been implicated in a number of pathological conditions such malaria.

Acknowledgment at the Science Slam was not the only feather in Woodland's cap this year. After attaining success during the South African leg, Woodland was chosen to present his research (this time in only three minutes) at the Falling Walls Lab in Berlin. There he won third place in the Young innovator of the year competition. A reward for this achievement was an opportunity to present the same talk at the Falling Walls Conference, billed as the "international conference on future breakthroughs in science and society".

Conference attendees included noble laureates and the director-general of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), Rolf-Dieter Heuer. Woodland found it "comforting" that his presentation took place at the same session as UCT's Professor Jill Farrant's of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

"I am passionate about science and about this country. It is imperative that we get people interested in, and inspired by, science in South Africa. We live in a scientific age. Everyone ought to be familiar with basic scientific ideas and, more importantly, ought to think critically about the world and the information they are fed," maintains Woodland.

Story by Abigail Calata. Image supplied.