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FameLab Benelux: The Wageningen Results

Update 02/04: I've added a gallery at the bottom of my post with a selection of photos taken during the heat in Wageningen (Source: FameLab Benelux). You can find many more photos on the website of FameLab Benelux.

I went to Wageningen UR this Thursday to take part in the first regional heat of FameLab Benelux. It took me 10 trains and 3 busses and more than 9 hours of travel (and that for just 3 minutes of presentation), but it was definitely worth the journey!

I think I speak for all contestants if I say we all had a really fun afternoon. But that's not all. To my honest surprise, I ended up as one of the first three finalists for the Benelux final on Thursday 22 May, along with Lenny de Jaeger and Padraic Flood (and Ake Nauta as runner-up).

From left to right: Padraic Flood, Lenny de Jaeger, Pieter Thyssen and Ake Nauta

From left to right: Padraic Flood, Lenny de Jaeger, Pieter Thyssen and Ake Nauta

In the end, 25 FameLabbers took up the challenge of presenting a topic in science, technology or mathematics, and that in only three (!!) minutes. And with three minutes, they really meant . . . 3:00 minutes. A first sign was made after 2:30 minutes, and at 3:00 sharp, a horn was blown at which point you had to stop, no matter what.

Luckily, this didn't discourage too many contestants, and I was truly amazed by the level of the presentations. It was heartwarming seeing how passionate everybody was about their research. Props were being used in the most ingenious ways, jokes abounded, and everyone used his/her own wits to explain their topic, be it by telling a story, raising sharp questions, or even . . . dancing.

After 25 presentations, on a variety of topics, I definitely learned a LOT. I joined Padraic Flood on a fantastic journey to the interior of a plant cell, and I learned about the new algae revolution from Lenny de Jaeger. Ake Nauta convinced me it is better to go on summer holidays to Siberia, rather than, say, Hawaii or Jamaica.

Florine Duval explaining how a pregnancy test works.

Florine Duval explaining how a pregnancy test works.

I now know how a pregnancy test works, thanks to Florine Duval and her fantastic props. I learned about fruit flies and dinosaurs, young stars, tickling leaves, romantic molecules, shit swaps and sarcasm on Twitter.

My own presentation was about quantum immortality — on how the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics offers a way to be immortal, and on how we can prove it via a quantum suicide experiment.

Me, trying to explain some of the weirdness behind quantum immortality.

Me, trying to explain some of the weirdness behind quantum immortality. Source: FameLab Benelux

After so many inspiring presentations, it's not surprising the jury had a really tough time deciding who should go through to the next round.

I'm honoured I was chosen, and I'm especially looking forward to the two-day master class in science communication, in which all finalists will take part to polish up their oral expression and enhance their communication skills. Our public communication skills coach will be no one less than Malcolm Love.

Last, but not least, both Wageningen UR and the British Council deserve a lot of credit for organizing the first heat ever held in the Benelux. Two more heats will be organized in Brussels on Monday 7 April, and in Groningen on Thursday 10 April.

Oh, and don't forget to book your train tickets to the Science Centre NEMO in Amsterdam, where the FameLab Benelux finals will be held on Thursday 22 May.

See you there!

Pieter Thyssen

Whereas his left brain was trained as a theoretical scientist, his right brain prefers the piano. At work, Pieter builds time machines (on paper) and loves to dabble in the history and philosophy of science. He often gets stuck in another dimension, contemplating time travel and parallel universes, or thinking about ways to save Schrödinger's cat (maybe). He explores the world on foot, and takes life one cup of (Arabica) coffee at a time. Follow him on Twitter @PieterThyssen or at You can reach Pieter via email at

  11 comments for “FameLab Benelux: The Wageningen Results

  1. Charlotte
    March 30, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Trots! :-)

  2. March 31, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Congrats, Pieter. Thumbs up!
    (Probably thanks to your fantastic, and nevertheless, very proud, piano teacher! 😉

    • March 31, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Thank you Raphke!

      Actually, there was a piano on stage. If I had known beforehand, I might have included some piano playing in my 3 minutes speech, in which case, it would have been completely thanks to you 😉

      Perhaps, my next presentation could be about the science behind classical music harmony :-)

  3. Olimpia
    March 31, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    No video? I would like to enjoy those three minutes...

    • March 31, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      I'm afraid not, even though I was told some parts of the heat were filmed. But numerous photos were taken, and they will be published on the website of FameLab Benelux in the coming days, so keep an eye on it!

  4. April 2, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Hi Pieter,

    Congratulations with the selection! We don't know eachother but I got a link to your blog via Pieter Mestdagh. I'm also participating in the Brussels heat next monday and must say I'm getting a bit anxious reading about the high quality of all the talks :). On the other hand, it's quite exciting and refreshing when you feel like a lab rat on most regular working days 😉

    Good luck with your blog, studies and of course, the benelux final!

    • April 2, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      Hi Lien,

      Thank you so much for your comment! It's great meeting a fellow FameLabber!

      No need to get anxious though. Above all, it's been a really fun and stimulating afternoon full of inspiring talks. So I fully agree with you: it really feels refreshing to leave our ivory tower from time to time :-) By the way, I'm really curious, what will be your topic?

      It's such a pity I won't be able to attend the heat in Brussels to see all the presentations. Actually, my initial plan was to subscribe for the heat in Brussels, since I'm working at the KU Leuven, but because I'm going to a conference in Sicily next week, I was forced to subscribe for the earlier heat in Wageningen.

      I wish you all the best of luck next Monday! I'll cross my fingers in Sicily :-)

      Please, do keep in touch. I would be very happy to know how it all went.

      Cheers and I hope to see you in the Benelux finals!


  5. Brecht
    April 8, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Nice Pieter!!!! Proficiat!!!

  6. April 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    See you during the masterclass ;-)! Mandy - Winner Groningen FameLab heat

    • April 14, 2014 at 5:51 am

      Hey Mandy,


      Really looking forward to meeting you in Amsterdam next week :-)

      Haven't had the time to check the FameLab Benelux website to see who else has won the Groningen heat. How was it? Many contestants? Nice talks? Lots of entertainment?



      • April 14, 2014 at 7:55 am

        Hey Pieter,

        We had a lot of nice talks during the heat, we started with around 23 participants. Since the FameLab heat was part of an exhibition, only 15 participants were able to present their story during the evening heat. Therefore, we had a preselection round in the afternoon.

        Topics ranged from ballet to the death star (Star Wars) in cancer research. I did myself a talk about sex and Alzheimer in fruit flies: (check also for the other winners!)

        Looking forward to meet you!

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