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Polymer Chemistry and Biomaterials Group
Polymer Chemistry and Biomaterials Group

FameLab is a science communication competition  organised  all over the world. The competition was first initiated in 2005 by Cheltenham Science Festival in the United Kingdom. It quickly became a success, allowing  scientists to communicate their research in an attractive and accessible way to a broad audience in the presence of a jury… all in less than three  minutes! The judges are generally looking for somebody who can shine in Content, Clarity and Charisma.

The structure of the presentation must enable the audience and the judges to easily follow the talk. And  they should be left with a full understanding of the scientific concept chosen. Finally, everyone should be left inspired and enthused about science. However, there is one golden rule – No Powerpoint Is Allowed. Attributes are permitted and  also make it more interesting for the audience to better understand the scientific story being  told. The FameLab competition has spread over 20 countries from Hong Kong to South Africa and Egypt and has involved over 5, 000 young scientists and engineers. In the  USA, NASA is the partner of the competition, while the main partner in Europe is the British Council.

The contest is typically open to anyone between 21 and 40 years who is carrying out  research in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics. All contestants are  trained to improve their confidence and to stimulate their speaking abilities in front of a large audience, while the winners of each round get the opportunity to further improve these skills.

Last year, the FameLab competition was organised  for the first time in the Benelux. Initially, three regional heats or regional qualifying rounds were organised  in Belgium and the Netherlands (Wageningen and Groningen), followed by an overall Benelux final. But  due to the popularity of the contest, both Belgium as well as the Netherlands now hold  separate heats. This year, regional heats in Belgium were first held at Ghent University and Namur University and in the end, 10 people from each continued to the finals in Leuven.

Covering nine  different nationalities and 25 young scientists, the Polymer Chemistry and Biomaterials (PBM) Group is a highly dynamic group. Hence, our involvement since the very beginning in the FameLab contest: Elke van De Walle and Arn Mignon proudly represented PBM in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Even though neither  of them was  selected for the finals, they are already winners for accepting this challenging task to participate in  FameLab and we would like to share their talks with you.

In this first blog post we are going to give the floor to…

Elke van De Walle, PhD student, FameLab 2014

Even though I wasn’t one of the winners, I’ll be glad to share my talk with you. It is based on my PhD subject on poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, and it was entitled ‘PMMA (Plexiglass), a solution for diabetes?’ Keep in mind that the presentation had to be delivered in three  minutes, so  my presentation is based on the fairytale between sensor girl and glucose boy.

Enjoy the fairytale…

“Imagine you suffer from diabetes, a disease affecting more than 300 million people worldwide. Would you like to hurt yourself several times a day, performing a finger prick test? If not, I know a little fairytale that might interest you…

sensor girl-glucose boy 2Once upon a time, somewhere at Ghent University, little sensor girl had been developed. She wasn’t very happy, as she was still waiting for the ultimate goal in her life… Getting implanted (under the skin)  to finally and hopefully meet the love of her life: glucose boy. Actually, she was struggling with her clothing, because the body environment he is living in, is very harsh and difficult to integrate into… Desperately, she started scrolling on the internet to find her personal styling coach and luckily she found a polymer chemist.

First they talked about her clothing…Due to the high rejection probability, they decided to start from a polymer that had already proven its biocompatibility…

PMMA”, the polymer chemist was screaming. “It is already known as bone cement, contact lenses and even as a drug carrier.”

Luckily, sensor girl pointed out that skin tissue is very soft and flexible, whereas PMMA acts as a hard and brittle material…

Hmmm..’right’, no problem, copolymerization will help us… If we combine two polymers with different characteristics, we will end up with a flexible polymer”, the chemist realised.

They tried several combinations and in the end they found THE perfect packaging …or was it clothes?… First problem solved!

Next, her make-up… the chemist clearly understood the importance of her looks as she should attract the love of her life. As glucose is found in blood, they had to find a way to create blood vessels in the neighbourhood of the sensor  and …allow diffusion of glucose towards her…

So the chemist came up with the concept of surface modification: “We will bind antibodies or growth factors onto your polymer jacket and they will stimulate the growth of new vessels.”

After all the optimisations,  she finally got ready. She got implanted, she even got accepted.  Blood vessels were surrounding her and…. Yes! They met. Glucose boy was flowing towards her and she started to glow with happiness!

Because of this glow, the patient got lucky too and now knows what his glucose values are…So guess what?! They lived happily ever after!

 But now, the question is: Do fairy tales ever come true?

The End!” (I hope you enjoyed my article … and the fairytale itself. )

If you want to know more about this initiative, don’t hesitate to check out the website:


A contribution by Elke van De Walle together with Diana Giol and Sandra Van Vlierberghe

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