Australia's best young science communicator named

Monday, 08 May, 2017

Microbiologist and honey expert Dr Nural Cokcetin has been named the country’s best young science communicator at the Australian final of FameLab, an international competition sponsored by the British Council.

Cokcetin used a colourful rendering of gut bacteria — as shown on ‘Poo Tube’ — to explain her research in the ithree institute at the University of Technology Sydney where she focuses on the antimicrobial and prebiotic properties of honey. She also won the audience choice award with her presentation, ‘The sweet treat(ment) for your microbiome’, and will now compete in the international final, to be held in the UK in June.

Eleven finalists from Australian universities and the CSIRO each had three minutes to tell their stories to the judges, armed only with their wits and a few props.

Dr Cokcetin said the therapeutic uses of honey — as a prebiotic for a healthy gut and as an antibacterial agent for infections caused by superbugs — has been her research focus for several years.

“It makes me so happy to see that people can connect with my research and can see the immediate impact it can have in their lives. This morning I've received so many messages from people in the audience to say that they had their spoonful of honey for a healthy gut this morning — I can’t wipe the smile off my face.”

“It makes me hopeful that there is such a huge interest from the public to really drive this research forward. I can’t wait to get back in the lab and get more results to share with everyone.”

Professor Liz Harry, director of the ithree institute in the UTS Faculty of Science, said: “Nural has an exceptional talent for communicating her science. I was particularly impressed by her use of Poo Tube as an attention grabber. And what also made her stand out in my opinion was that in answering the judges’ questions she demonstrated the rigour she applies to her science and to the interpretation of the data — this is first-class research practice.”

Helen O’Neil, director of the British Council in Australia which sponsors the competition, said the final was a “truly wonderful night for science communication … from some of the country’s brightest minds. But it was Nural who stood out to the judges on the three key criteria of content, clarity and charisma.”

The runner-up was Andrew Katsis, from Deakin University, for his work on behaviour adaptations in birds and how they might help to predict species’ responses to extreme conditions occurring with climate change. An honourable mention was given to Bronwyn Ayre, of the University of Western Australia, for her research into the pollination of kangaroo paw plants.

The FameLab final was judged by Helen O’Neil, ABC Science broadcaster Robyn Williams and former WA Chief Scientist Professor Lyn Beazley. Astronomer Alan Duffy was MC.

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