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“Science Idol” at UC Serves as Academia’s Answer to “American Idol”

A UC “Science Idol” contest is set for April 16, to see which researcher or student can provide the best, brief explanation of their work – all with a dash of pop-culture entertainment as one “rockin” researcher dresses like Elvis and another cheerleads wearing a lab coat with pom-poms.

Date: 4/3/2013 9:30:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824

UC ingot   David Nash, professor of geology, likes his odds in winning the upcoming “Science Idol” contest at the University of Cincinnati.
He boasts, “I’ll be dressed like Elvis.”
He thinks that costume will be perfect for explaining his geology research. After all, he quips: “Elvis rocked, and so does my research.”
In the contest, Nash will have to withstand competition from fellow faculty and graduate students alike. One of those graduate students, Elizabeth Kopras of environmental health, will dress as a 14th century knight – wearing tunic, helmet, breast plate and carrying a flagon – to represent her research into how the nutritional diet of the past provided needed vitamin K in a way that our modern diet does not.
UC’s “Science Idol” competition is set for 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 16, in the Catskeller of Tangeman University Center (TUC). The event is free and open to the public.
The “Science Idol” contest was the brainchild of students in the UC Forward course, “Innovation in Science Communication” taught by Elissa Yancey, educator associate professor of journalism.
Says Yancey, “In advance of the competition, the journalism students have been taking what they’ve learned in class and are holding workshops in research labs to review best research communications practices with graduate student researchers. It’s an opportunity to make the leap from jargon to the magic of science, translating the passion researchers feel to engagement with a general audience.”
In the “Science Idol” competition, each contestant will have two-and-a-half minutes to explain the who, what and why of their research in a compelling and creative manner for a general audience. Each will have a follow-up two-and-a-half minutes to answer questions from the judges. The judges will vote to decide a winner, with any tie decided by the audience.
Researcher Erin Haynes, assistant professor of environmental health, will seek to capture votes for her communication efforts related to her research on effects of manganese exposure by dressing as a sleuth on the case of “manganese the mystery metal.”
And while Brooke Crowley, assistant professor in geology and anthropology, studies lemurs, she’ll be seeking to show that she doesn’t monkey around when it comes to her research on these primates and their environment.
College of Medicine behavior science graduate student Shilpa Shah will dress as a physician due to her work in the department of pediatric critical care.
Participating as “Science Idol” contestants are
  • Brooke Crowley, assistant professor in geology and anthropology
  • Erin Haynes, assistant professor in environmental health
  • David Nash, professor of geology
  • Graduate student Elizabeth Kopras of environmental health
  • Graduate student Shilpa Shah of behavior science
 Serving as judges are
  • Greg Hand, university spokesperson, director of public relations and associate vice president of Governmental Relations and University Communications
  •  Adjunct instructor Brenda Hunda, curator of Invertebrate Paleontology Office at the Cincinnati Museum Center
  •  Amy Townsend-Small, assistant professor of geology and geography
 Serving as master of ceremonies will be Lane Hart, student body president, and serving as faculty cheerleader – complete with lab coat and pom-poms – will be Ken Petren, associate professor of biological sciences.
The students in the “Innovation in Science Communication” course and organizing the “Science Idol” event are
  • Rebecca Butts, an undergraduate student double majoring in English and journalism
  • Alana Frew, an undergraduate student double majoring in environmental science and journalism
  • Justin Kelley, an undergraduate student double majoring in environmental science and finance
  • Taylor Payne, an undergraduate student double majoring in communications and journalism
 In addition to the “Idol” event, the students in the course are creating 30-second radio spots featuring UC student researchers briefly explaining their work. They’re calling this effort “Geek Speak 4 U” and hope these will air locally.