As part of Forskningsdagene 2017, a national festival celebrating curiosity and knowledge, CAS Oslo is bringing together six current and former research group leaders and fellows who will give quick, engaging presentations about their research. The scholars have to keep an eye on the clock – once their 12 minutes are up, the ‘baton’ passes to the next speaker.

The relay race will kick off at 18:00 on Thursday, 21 September, at Kulturhuset at Youngs gate 6, Oslo’s new event space for dance, debate, dissemination of knowledge, and more. Note: The event will be held in Norwegian.

Attendance is free. You can let us know if you plan to attend on Facebook.

'What makes something valuable?'

Participants during this year’s Forskningsdagene are organising their events around a common theme: What makes something valuable?

Expect some novel responses to that question at the relay race. For example, Jessica Lönn-Stensrud, a microbiologist at Oslo University Hospital, said her presentation will focus on how we should value, not fear, certain types of bacteria.

‘When we try to kill bacteria with disinfectant, we actually risk killing the ones we need, leaving gaps for dangerous bacteria to fill instead,’ Lönn-Stensrud said. ‘You may end up doing more harm than good.’

Lönn-Stensrud currently works for the research consortium Turning the Tide of Antimicrobial Resistance. This summer, she participated in YoungCAS, CAS Oslo’s new research experience for young scholars. The project looked at the challenges surrounding the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the risks it poses to surgical implants.

‘At some point in the future, we may have to decide who gets treated with antibiotics and who doesn’t,’ Lönn-Stensrud said. ‘Our generation and the generation before us have exhausted a nonrenewable resource. My children and your children won’t have that same benefit. My grandmother lost several of her siblings at a young age because antibiotics didn’t exist. Worst case scenario, that’s where we’re headed.’

Dag O. Hessen, professor of biology at the University of Oslo, said he plans to talk about the various ways in which we find nature valuable.

‘Some might think of the value of nature in and of itself,’ Hessen said. ‘The physical and mental well-being we experience by being surrounded by nature is another obvious value. But then there’s also the fact that nature has an economic value.’

Hessen said he will devote about half of his talk to photosynthesis, which he described as nature’s most valuable ecosystem services.

‘Without photosynthesis, climate change would have manifested itself in a completely different way,’ Hessen said. ‘The Earth’s temperature would have been a lot higher than it is today, because about half of our carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the ecosystem through photosynthesis. That’s the major value of nature that we can point to in order to understand why intact ecosystems are so important.’

Mette Halskov Hansen, professor of China studies at the University of Oslo, said she also intends to talk about climate change – specifically China’s interest in the topic.

‘China is the most important country in the world to pay attention to if we want to solve the challenges surrounding climate change,’ Hansen said. ‘We need to understand what values are behind their decision to engage in the global debate about the changing climate. If we fail to understand it, we could end up making major mistakes.’

Other speakers include Ebrahim Afsah, associate professor of international law at the University of Copenhagen, whose presentation will focus on the Arab Spring; Hans Jacob Orning, professor of history at the University of Oslo, on Vikings; and Jon Swenson, professor of biology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, on the relationship between people, bears, and blueberries.

'You have to sharpen your message'

A 12-minute talk aimed at the general public is a lot different than a 45-minute lecture in front of a classroom full of students. The scholars participating in the relay race said they have a plan to grab the audience’s attention: keep it entertaining and ditch the jargon.

‘When you have a small window of time to make your point to people outside of your discipline, you have to sharpen your message -- without losing your authority as a scholar,’ Hansen said.

Hessen, who frequently appears in the media and at public speaking arrangements, shared his approach to science communication.

‘First of all, you have to speak loudly, clearly, and relatively plainly, but you shouldn’t dumb down your message,’ Hessen said. ‘You should never underestimate your audience or your message. It’s actually a good test to determine whether you really grasp the larger context of what you’re working on. If it’s not clear to you, then you won’t be able to explain it to anyone else.’

Added Lönn-Stensrud, ‘It’s important to consider your audience. Who are you speaking to? What are their interests? What is your main takeaway? All of those things need to be clear in your mind.’

A presentation full of academic jargon is one of the quickest ways to lose an audience’s attention. It can also cause some comical mix-ups.

Take the term ‘biofilm,’ which refers to when microorganisms form groups that often also stick to surfaces (think dental plaque, for example). Lönn-Stensrud has spent much of her career researching the topic, but in her native Sweden, ‘bio’ means ‘cinema.’

‘When I’m speaking to someone who doesn’t have a background in biology, it may sound like I work at the cinema,’ Lönn-Stensrud said. ‘As a researcher, it’s always good to be challenged to think about what you’re really working on and to put it in a greater context.’

For information in Norwegian, visit Forskningsdagene 2017's web page.

RSVP to the event on Facebook.

 

Carl Fredrik Schou Straumsheim