11/06/2013 13:33 BST | Updated 11/08/2013 06:12 BST

If Young Scientists Ruled The World...

What a place we'd live in if young scientists ruled the world. Judging the FameLab finals at the Cheltenham Science Festival, I had the privilege of listening to ten young scientists drawn from 27 nations encapsulate a topic in just three minutes.

We learnt the origins of the cosmos - in minuscule quantum wrinkles, now writ large as entire galaxies. We learnt that the shape which best fills a volume looks like a 'blob' of soap-bubbles.

We learnt that 90% of the cells in the human body aren't ours; they are microbes and bacteria. We learnt that exchanging those microbes through a kiss can give some people a higher risk of nasal cancer. But that the biggest risk of all is in forsaking common sense, buying-into size-zero bodies and crash dieting - damaging yourself and your future kids' genetics.

More practically, we learnt that we will very soon be able to drive a car by thought alone - but the tricky bit will be avoiding eye-catching distractions. The turbulent secrets of a bumble bee can add oomph to a helicopter, but static frazzles space components. One zzzzzp and dddddddderp - and a multi-million pound satellite turns into floating space junk.


Fergus, the deeply beguiling Irish winner (pictured), told us the story of deep-frozen Canadian tree frogs, who use sugar to protect the inside of their cells whilst, to all intents and purposes, dropping dead only to melt and return to life come spring. If we can copy it, more transplant organs could save more lives.

From swarms of 'autonomous free-flying dinosaur squid', to attention deficits, human augmentation and the meaning of life - a 90 minute immersion in cutting edge knowledge and ideas with content, clarity and charisma. This is FameLab.

But the bits you don't see 'on stage' are the bits that inspire me as much. Since 2005, over 5,000 young scientists around the world - from every discipline - have been connected and trained. And in the process they have learned to better engage each other, young people and national leaders with the vast endeavour and huge achievement which is international science.

And 'five thousand' is a big number (as our host BBC Radio's Quentin Cooper told us, it's the largest number you can write in English without using the same letter more than once). Last week we had medics, neuroscientists, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, engineers, physicists, geologists, astronomers - even a very scientific architect!

Which is why I was there. My work at the British Council is about connecting people through English, the arts, education and UK culture. And science is one of the universal languages of humanity - often spoken in English - but understood in any language. And sharing science, like the Arts and all humanity's universal languages, helps foster international collaboration, human progress and positive change.

In their home countries, international FameLabbers are 'Pop Idols' on academic steroids. They have carried Olympic torches, been feted and voted in countries they weren't born in (and long before it happened on Britain's Got Talent), have risen to media and social media stardom and become TV presenters - taking science from the test tube to YouTube and onto national TV in Turkey, Egypt and more.

This year the prime minister of Egypt was so taken by watching his country's final that he called the British Council and invited everyone involved in FameLab Egypt for the past three years to come and meet with him. He listened, learned and spoke of his joy in thinking and talking about science with them as such a positive force for Egypt, as it rises to its many challenges.

If young scientists ruled the world, it might be a better place - but then there'd be no-one to do science. FameLab brings us the best of both: young scientists advancing the sum of human knowledge and learning to share it with us all - from world politician to ordinary punter.

Find out more about FameLab at and #FameLab on Twitter.