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Science? – Slam!

Philipp Schrögel is the organizer of Science Slam in the cities Erlangen and Nuremberg. Foto: Olha Kuzmyn

Philipp Schrögel is the organizer of Science Slam in the cities Erlangen and Nuremberg. Foto: Olha Kuzmyn

What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word “science”? Is it a big laboratory with many microscopes, computers, screens and people in white robes and glasses? Or is it a crazy experiment performed by a doctor resembling Professor from Back to the Future? Anyway, both are too artificial. Science has already become a multifunctional word used to characterise all kinds of processes, both mental and physical, that end up with some useful result or conclusion. At the same time, it is no longer interesting to deal with science in its pure form. Nowadays it is being combined with almost all possible activities, even stand-up comedy or slams.

I’m sure you’ve already heard about Science Slam, especially if you still remember a short overview of Science Slam: Klima Special or a poster of any other slam. Quite recently (February 2 – 4) there were two more slams nearby, namely in Erlangen and Nuremberg. The topics covered were of all possible kinds: varying from malaria and usefulness of medication up to Frankenstein’s electro-car and lack of will-power. The speakers were real professionals and presented their own research in the easiest way possible. Yet, the questions that bothered me during the evening were not about building my own eco-car, but rather something like: who was the genius that invented science slams? And where did they come from?

So the origin of science slams should be found in poetry slams, first performed in the late 1980s. Their main idea was to present your newest poetry during a short solo performance and beat other contestants. Poets were evaluated by people from the audience and the winner had to persuade the judges not only in his/her talent but also in the ability to present it well (i.e. entertainment skills). Almost the same principle was later applied to science. The first scientific slam took place in Darmstadt, Germany in 2006 (it’s already 10 years old!). It took 2 more years for the next event to be held in the “Haus der Wissenschaft” in Braunschweig. Since that time other cities and countries followed this extremely contagious example, and now you can visit such an event not only in Germany, but also in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and others. Moreover, since June 2014 there are tickets available even for international championships.

Now, I’m not a real expert in this area, so I couldn’t find a better solution than to ask an organizer of Science Slam in the cities Erlangen and Nuremberg, Philipp Schrögel, for more information. So here are some interesting answers to the most urgent questions.

Combination of Science and Lord of the Rings - it's also about entertainment. Foto: Olha Kuzmyn

Combination of Science and Lord of the Rings – it’s also about entertainment. Foto: Olha Kuzmyn

On February 2 the 4th „regular“ Science Slam took place in Erlangen (and the 6th overall). Quite a lot, though everything started not so long ago. The first Slam took place on July 2, 2014. What inspired you to organise it? And where did the idea come from?

Philipp: Science communication is my passion. As a former researcher in natural sciences, I always enjoyed talking about my research; now I am working as a freelancer and also do research on science communication. Science Slams are an exciting science communication format. I started with it, when the organizer of the Science Slam in Karlsruhe (where I am currently living) was looking for people to join the team. I immediately thought „hey, I want to get involved in this cool project“ and joined. And since I had a teaching assignment at FAU and there was no Science Slam in Erlangen or Nuremberg, I decided to start one here (in combination with a Science Slam workshop at the university).

Can you describe what a science slam is in two sentences, for everybody who does not know the format yet?

Philipp: Science Slams are short (10 minutes) presentations by young scientists on their own research projects – understandable and entertaining. During a typical Science Slam evening, around six researchers present their slams, and the audience judges the talks based on the learning effect (i.e. Science) and the „fun factor“ (i.e. Slam) of the presentations.

What is the hardest part in organising a Slam? And how long does it usually take?

Philipp: The main difficulty is finding people to present. It takes a lot of convincing and searching to get the six people for an evening together. The rest is relatively easy: some advertising for the event, the coordination with the location and a little project management. The main time factor is not the actual work, but the time it takes to find the slammers.

Who can become a slammer?

Philipp: Everybody! Well, almost: the concept of a Science Slam is to present your own research. So slammers should have some research to present, at the minimum the results of their bachelor’s or master’s thesis. The main „target group“ are doctoral and postdoctoral researchers. But if someone has an interesting student research project before their thesis, we would also invite them.

How to become a slammer in only 21 days? Philipp will show you. Foto: Olha Kuzmyn

How to become a slammer in only 21 days? Philipp will show you. Foto: Olha Kuzmyn

You offer special workshops about slams at the university open for anybody. Are there any upcoming workshops this spring or summer?

Philipp: Indeed! The science slam seminar will be offered again for the summer semester. The first meeting is on April 22. You will find more information in the UNIVIS.

Which part of a slam do you enjoy the most?

Philipp: This is a difficult question. The most enjoyable moment for me is when the last presentation of the evening is over, everything went well, the audience is happy and the slammers enjoyed it as well. Then I know that all the time and effort was worth it.

You managed to organise a great event called „Science Slam: Klima Special“. Are you planning to organise more „specials“ in the nearest future?

Philipp: I am always thinking about new ideas! One thing in particular would be an English version of a Science Slam. There are so many international students and scientist in Erlangen and Nuremberg. It would be great to see what they are researching, but it would also be a nice event for all non-German speakers to join as audience. So, if anybody would be interested to present their work at an English Science Slam, let me know!

If you got interested in this topic, feel free to visit the main pages of Science Slams in Erlangen-Nuremberg for the upcoming events or any kind of information regarding Science Slams. You also have a chance to watch some of the previous slams at the FAU Videoportal, for example, from Klima Special.

So don’t hesitate to make the next scientific breakthrough and present it at one of the slams! There are no guarantees, but you can definitely become the next international winner of the European Science Slam 😉

And many thanks to Philipp Schrögel for a wonderful interview!

Olha Kuzmyn