Swinburne students one step away from FameLab international finals

Sia (left) and Song could be on their way to compete in the FameLab international final in the UK.

Sia (left) and Song could be on their way to compete in the FameLab international final in the UK.

Two Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus PhD students have qualified for the Malaysian final of the FameLab Talking Science 2016 competition which will be held in Kuala Lumpur on 23 April.

Jessica Song and Edwin Sia from Sarawak are among 10 finalists who stand a chance to compete in the FameLab International Final in the UK in June if they make it through the Malaysian leg.

FameLab is one of the biggest science communication competitions in the world which aims to encourage scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to share their expertise and knowledge in a language easily understood by the public, in three minutes.

Both Song and Sia, recent recipients of the Swinburne Research Scholarship, are in the running for the final after presenting their individual research projects in the heats in Kuala Lumpur last month.

Song presented her research on the long-term effects of microplastics to the ecosystem while Sia delivered his research on bacteria found in Borneo acting as a natural filter for low carbon-dioxide emission, thus slowing earth’s carbon signature.

In her pitch Song explained that microplastics are used as exfoliants in facial cleansers, abrasives in toothpastes, and synthetic fibres in clothing.

“Because of their durability and persistence, they also make very good vehicles for organic pollutants and potentially disease-causing micro-organisms to latch on to.”

When ingested by marine life, she said, microplastics cause various health complications from starvation to reduced reproductive health.

“Eventually the microplastics get passed onto higher orders of the food web, which ends with us incurring effects we have barely even begun to explore, let alone understand; effects which could be just as severe, if not worse.

“So, really, not only are we washing the outsides (of our bodies) with microplastics but also our insides with them.”

Sia explained that when peat comes into contact with air or is burnt, it releases carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

“There are three major areas that are believed to release high amounts of carbon dioxide, namely the Amazon, Africa and Borneo. But did you know that this is not the case for Borneo. We found that Borneo actually emits less carbon dioxide than was previously known. I believe the answer to this lies not in the peat itself but what actually lives in the peat: bacteria.

“Preserving peatlands should therefore be our main priority as we reflect on the possibility that the bacteria are preventing a carbon bomb, the size of billions of baby elephants, from exploding,” Sia said.

The finalists are coached in communication skills by experienced trainer Anne Goodman, and “Bang Goes The Theory” and “The Gadget Show” presenter Dallas Campbell.

FameLab is one of the biggest science communication competitions in the world. It is organised by the British Council, Newton-Ungku Omar Fund, Cheltenham Festivals, Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), and the Malaysian Science 2 Action.

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