London Calling For Science Star

A Queen’s University student is London bound — in a battle to be crowned the next big name in science

Emer Maguire, a 23-year-old Clinical Anatomy Masters student , will go head to head with ten other finalists in the UK final of FameLab —the world's largest science communication competition — next Wednesday, April 22 at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London.

The 23-year-old from Strabane got through to the final after being crowned champion at the Northern Ireland heat back in February in the Black Box, Belfast. Organised by British Council Northern Ireland in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Science Festival and Cheltenham Festival, this heat saw Emer up against tough competition, as finalists covered everything from the power to eat grass to golden jellyfish and bad blood. 

Her winning talk however, which was based on the science of kissing and why we smooch, was unanimously voted the winner by the Belfast judges, as she explained that there’s much more to a kiss than just the exchange of salvia.

Speaking ahead of the competition next week, she said: 'I haven’t quite finalised my topic just yet – so I can’t really divulge anything – but what I can say is that it’s not like any of the others in the final. Quite a few of the finalists are physicists and doing PhDs so their topics are completely different to mine. They also deliver their talks in a completely different style, as I like to add a bit of Northern Irish craic – but time will only tell if that’s a winning combination!'

Prior to next week’s final Emer attended a two-day intensive masterclass in science communication with two of the UK’s top science communicators – Karl Byrne and Jonathan Sanderson. She was joined by her competition, who hailing from some of the UK’s top universities, made it through from one of 20 heats.

About the masterclass, Emer said: 'I initially found the masterclass really nerve-racking as believe it or not, I’m actually really quite shy. However, by day two I started to get to know and bond with the other finalists and felt that I’d earned my place amongst them.

'I really enjoyed the experience and took a lot away from it and have made some really good connections. Obviously I’m nervous about next week, but I’m really looking forward to it, and seeing where it can take me in the world of science communication.'

If Emer wins FameLab UK, she will not only go home with £1750 to further her career in science communication, but will also move on to the FameLab International Final at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival in June.

Commenting on Emer’s success, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director at British Council Northern Ireland said: 'Emer has done exceptionally well to get this far and we’ll be supporting her all the way on the night. She’s a shining star and has every chance of bringing home the FameLab UK title, but we’ll still be keeping our fingers crossed!

'FameLab is a great initiative, especially since it can showcase some of Northern Ireland’s brightest science stars and one thing’s for certain; this won’t be the last time we hear from Emer!'

Past Northern Ireland winners of the competition have gone on to great things. They include Simon Watt from Castlederg, who after winning FameLab Northern Ireland in 2005, went on to become a well-known biologist, writer, science communicator and TV presenter, most recently putting on three different science shows at the inaugural Northern Ireland Science Festival.

So who knows … Emer may even be Northern Ireland’s next Brian Cox or Alice Roberts!

FameLab is an initiative of Cheltenham Festivals started in 2005, and has quickly grown into arguably the world’s leading science communication competition. A partnership with the British Council since 2007 has seen the competition go global with more than 5500 young scientists and engineers having participated from over 30 different countries.

In 2015 FameLab is running in 29 countries, with NASA delivering the USA competition, and CERN organising a special CERN-only competition in Switzerland. Cheltenham Festivals and the British Council co-produce the FameLab International Grand Final held at the Cheltenham Science Festival each June.

The FameLab UK final takes place at 7pm on Wednesday, April 22 at the Bloomsbury Theatre and will be streamed live on the night. For more information visit or follow British Council NI on Twitter.