Go figure: serious science explained in just three minutes


The Science Figured Out project gives researchers a platform to present their work to the world outside the lab, and explain to people why it matters

Quick pitch

Whether it’s the current research behind ancient Chinese tradition or high-tech prosthetic limbs, a new platform explains the latest doctoral studies from throughout Flanders in videos lasting just three minutes or less.

Science Figured Out was created by Scriptie, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting science. Each week the platform will present two new videos of researchers explaining what their research is and why it matters, with subtitles in English.

The director of Scriptie, Arnaud Zonderman, says Science Figured Out gives the general public greater access to scientific research.

“Around 1,800 doctoral studies are completed every year in Flanders and, unfortunately, only a small amount of this research is communicated to a general audience,” he says. “That’s really what we want to do: show what kind of amazing research is being conducted at our universities. For me, it’s also surprising to learn about new research and studies that I’ve never heard of.”

Understandable and entertaining

One of those studies was conducted by An Verfaillie (pictured), a PhD researcher within the Renewable Materials and Nanotechnology research group at the University of Leuven. Her work focuses on intensifying microalgae processing to save production costs for plastics, medicine or biodiesel. She appreciates the way the site shows the international presence at Flanders’ universities.

“In my research team, there are members from all over the world,” she says. “For Belgian citizens, it’s good to know that international researchers are contributing to our universities.”

I want to communicate science. By showing the general public what researchers are doing, we can have their support, interest and feedback

- KU Leuven researcher An Verfaillie

While conducting research for her PhD in biomedical sciences and in bioengineering, Hannelore Bové from the University of Hasselt became interested in air pollution and carcinogenic black carbon particles. She says she decided to make her video for Science Figured Out to better communicate with non-scientists. 

“It’s a really great platform to let us present ourselves in an understandable but also entertaining way,” Bové says. “When you give a lecture for scientists, it’s in a completely different way from how you would do it for lay people. It’s a great platform for communicating.”

Verfaillie feels the same. “I want to communicate science,” she says. “By showing the general public what researchers are doing, we can have their support, interest and feedback. All the topics are explained in a simple way and because the videos can be spread by social media, they can reach a large audience.”

Speak out

Verfaillie’s and Bové’s videos are two of 15 already published on the site, which is an offshoot of Scriptie’s Flemish PhD Cup, a competition where researchers present their work in just three minutes in the hope of winning a €10,000 prize. The new platform is more inclusive.

“Those who are still working on their doctoral research can take part, which isn’t the case for the PhD Cup,” Zonderman says. “And foreign or international researchers who don’t speak Dutch can also talk about their research on Science Figured Out.”

The organisers provide all the participating researchers with resources and feedback on how and why to pitch their work.

“Anne Glover, a Scottish professor, once said that, ‘research not communicated is research not done,’ and that’s something we also believe,” Zonderman says. “It’s not just important to collect your research: you also really need to talk about it, not only with your colleagues but also to the public and perhaps the taxpayers, because it’s with their money that you are able to do your work.”

Photo: Vincent Stevens