FameLab History

FameLab was set up in 2005 by Cheltenham Festivals in partnership with the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA) to find and nurture scientists and engineers with an interest in communicating with public audiences. Since 2007, via a partnership with the British Council, FameLab has gone global, with competitions now held in 20+ countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North America.

Globally more than 4000 researchers have taken part. The result is a vibrant network of exciting scientists and engineers engaging international audiences but also engaging with each other, broadening each other’s views of what it means to be working in science right now.

In 2012, Cheltenham Festivals signed an agreement with NASA, via its Astrobiology Program, to run FameLab for the first time in the United States. Since then, ~200 early career scientists have participated in the US. Of these, 90% are from the US, with other US-based participants joining who hail from homes as far away as Sri Lanka, Colombia, Nepal, Israel, Mexico, China, and Australia.

We have hosted events all over the country, from Honolulu to San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta, New York, and Washington, DC, as well as online competitions to expand our reach. We are devoted to embedding communications training workshops into every regional and online heat we conduct – skills-building is the heart of FameLab!

In Season One, the focus was on Astrobiology. Our National Winner, Brendan Mullan—an astrophysicist, now the Director of the Carnegie Science Center’s Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh, PA—represented the US for the first time in the International Final at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June, 2012 where he advanced to the final round of competition.

In Season Two, a partnership with National Geographic’s Missions Media broadened our scope from Astrobiology to Exploring Earth and Beyond, and competitors from new fields such as archaeology and oceanography joined the FameLab stage. Our National Winner, Lyl Tomlinson—currently a graduate student in neuroscience at Stony Brook University—traveled to the Festival in June, 2014 where he was chosen as a runner up.

Season Three began in July, 2014. A partnership with British Council US has expanded FameLab’s reach and profile in the US. With several more heats to go, Season Three promises to deliver a fantastic new crop of passionate, skillful scientists!

Our research shows that most of the participants in the US come to FameLab with minimal experience in communications and outreach, or none at all, and cite lack of time and lack of support from their institutions as challenges to their participation in public communication. After participating in FameLab, they show marked gains in learning best practices in thematic narrative construction, and report statistically significant increases in their skills, confidence, and clarity in communication.