Laurent Lemmens finishes fourth in the Battle of the Scientists


Today saw doctoral student Laurent Lemmens (SCK•CEN – KU Leuven) compete against four other scientists to win the ‘best research presentation’ prize in the Battle of the Scientists. While he did not scoop the coveted trophy, he achieved a laudable fourth place. “It was a unique experience and I would recommend any scientist to take part,” says Laurent.

In the Battle of the Scientists, participants were given a total of 15 minutes to explain their research to an audience of primary school children. The five international scientists pulled out all the stops to inspire the interest and win the favour of pupils from the International Schools of Ghent and Leuven. A jury of children gave feedback each time, and the audience was allowed to ask questions.

Laurent Lemmens (SCK•CEN – KU Leuven) explains how he approached his presentation on ‘Determining the location of waste disposal’: “I stepped onto the stage as Homer Simpson, and explained the concept of geological disposal of radioactive waste in clay on the basis of, wait for it, Homer’s doughnut addiction!” laughs Laurent. “Homer’s doughnut comes in a packet that we need to
recycle. Nuclear energy also generates waste, which we need to find a solution for. Where do we take this nuclear waste? What kind of subsoil is suitable? With a little help from a ‘surrogate Bart Simpson’, we conducted several water-based experiments on different types of soil.” After the experiments, he allowed the audience – or “the government”, as he puts it – to decide where the waste should go.

It was Christian Taplan (Ghent University) who ultimately won the sought-after trophy. “And it was well-deserved,” says Laurent. “Christian gave a really inspiring presentation.”

Presentation techniques

The Battle of the Scientists is an initiative of ‘The Floor is Yours’, which provides support to researchers in presenting their work to a wide audience. The organisers’ aim with the competition is to inspire children’s interest in science at a young age – by bringing that science into schools and allowing pupils to play a leading role in it.

The scientists were not ‘thrown to the (young) lions’ without some preparation first. The Floor is Yours organised a masterclass in presentation techniques, during which the scientists learned how to explain their work in a compelling presentation. A must for any scientist, according to Laurent. “They really teach you how to address kids in different ways and to do so playfully in order to get them enthusiastic about science.”