Microalgae researcher to compete in science event

April 8, 2015

Dr Navid MoheimaniThe process of repetitively milking microalgae to cost effectively produce biofuel will be one of the topics presented at a free science communications competition on Thursday evening.

FameLab Live at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle will see Murdoch’s Dr Navid Moheimani from the Algae Research and Development Centre in the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences competing against speakers from the other WA universities and the University of Sydney.

Heats have taken place throughout Australia in recent weeks and the WA state winner will compete in the FameLab final in May for a spot at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK in June. There they will compete against the top science communicators from all over the world.

Dr Moheimani will have just three minutes to explain his research and his presentation must engage judges and an audience without using scientific jargon.

“It’s a pretty exciting challenge and I’m feeling good about my presentation but of course I don’t know what I’m up against yet!” Said Dr Moheimani.

“Of course I present on a regular basis to students and fellow scientists at conferences, but I’ve never done anything like this before.

“We’re not allowed to use power points in our presentations but I have prepared a prop involving tennis balls, cardboard and cotton wool which should help me to explain the concept of milking and how it could revolutionise the renewable energy industry.

“Currently producing biofuel from microalgae on an industrial scale is not very cost effective. Current methods mean microalgae can only be used once. This conventional process involves using a lot of fertilisers, which are inefficient and expensive. Milking the microalgae instead of killing it to get the hydrocarbon will mean we can use the microalgae over and over again, requiring less fertilisers, less energy and less land area.

“I’ve had two papers published on the topic but the concept of milking is still in the very early stages of laboratory research. Industry will only come on board when shown proof of concept so there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Dr Moheimani is collaborating with his colleague Professor Parisa Bahri from the School of Engineering and Information Technology on this and other microalgae related research projects.

Another researcher from Murdoch’s School of Veterinary and Life Sciences has already competed in the New South Wales heat because she will not be available for the WA event on Thursday.

Post doctorial research fellow Dr Sofie De Meyer from the Centre for Rhizobium Studies presented on Lebeckia ambigua, the hardy perennial shrub legume discovered in South Africa which could help WA farmers turn poor soils into areas suitable for farming.

Unfortunately Dr De Meyer was not successful in her heat but said she gained a lot of experience.

“The day of the heat was very interesting,” she said. “We had a workshop for most of the day about science communication and how to deal with stress whilst talking to the public.”

A film about Dr De Meyer’s research can be viewed here.

The FameLab competition is organised by the British Council and is run in around 30 countries.

The event in Fremantle is free to attend and will be hosted by science communicator Sarah Lau. The judges are Professor Ian Small, WA Scientist of the Year, ABC 720 presenter Gillian O’Shaughnessy and Kirsten Freeman from the British Council. The event starts at 6.30pm and topics include huntsman spiders, coastal dolphins and malaria medicines.

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