Nozipho Gumbi wins FameLab South Africa

Champion communicator: FameLab South Africa 2016 winner Nozipho Gumbi with runners-up Savannah Nuwagaba (left) and Claude Moshobane (right)

Champion communicator: FameLab South Africa 2016 winner Nozipho Gumbi with runners-up Savannah Nuwagaba (left) and Claude Moshobane (right)

The international FameLab competition has chosen its South African winner. Nozipho Gumbi from Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa, will be travelling to the UK to go up against 30 country winners for the international title. 

FameLab, referred to as a “Pop Idols for scientists”, invites young scientists (21-35) to present their science in less than three minutes — developing their skills for engaging with the public. 

Runner-up Claude Moshobane from Limpopo, currently working with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi), discussed alien invasive plants and how they disrupt the ecosystem. Savannah Nuwagaba from Uganda, currently at Stellenbosch University, spoke about how mathematics is used to predict possible changes in animals’ body size, depending on changes in their eating habits.

But the star of the show was Gumbi, who is studying nanotechnology at Unisa. She was the overall favourite, dazzling the audience and the judges with her engaging talk on water filtration using carbon nanotubes.

The final of the South African leg took place in front of a capacity audience at the glittering Cape Town International Convention Centre, venue of the British Council Going Global conference.

The journey for the 10 finalists began earlier this year. Science communication training programmes around the country were facilitated by Jive Media Africa, an independent science communication agency supported by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement and the British Council in South Africa. Heats were held around the country — from Limpopo, to the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and the Western Cape — with video entries for those living far from a heat. Only 19 contestants were chosen to go through to the semifinals, which took place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg, on March 12. The judges had the unenviable task of selecting just 10 finalists.

The top 10 were brought to Cape Town and presented to the high-profile audience and judges. These included Dr Tollulah Oni (UCT school of public health); Dr Carolina Odman (Universe Awareness Programme); Koki Selepe (department of science and technology); and John Wade Smith (British High Commission). Quentin Cooper of the BBC and FameLab International played the role of MC.

Gumbi will soon be packing her bags and jetting off to the United Kingdom for the FameLab International finals hosted by Cheltenham Festivals. Humble yet confident, Gumbi acknowledged the other candidates, saying “each and every one of you could have been the winner tonight”.