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Mohd Hazreen Abdul Rashid with his win.

IT was a night of double joy for Mohd Hazreen Abdul Rashid, a medical officer in the psychiatry department at a public hospital, when he was not only announced as Champion of FameLab Malaysia National Final 2019 but he will also be flying off to the United Kingdom next month.

Mohd Hazreen will represent the country at the FameLab International Final on June 5 and June 6 during the Cheltenham Science Festival, a six-day celebration of science, engineering and the arts.

He beat 11 science communicators from across the country in the national grand finale and won RM3,000 and the EURAXESS Asean Prize 2019 worth €600 (RM2,800), which offers the unique opportunity to visit a research lab or university anywhere in the European Union.

Mohd Hazreen’s winning talk focused on drug addiction and how society often labels patients as criminals by making moral judgments that do more harm towards recovery.

“As many as 60 per cent of recovering addicts relapse within one year,” he said, in his three-minute presentation in front of a distinguished panel of judges at the national grand finale in Zebra Square recently.

Mohd Hazreen, who is completing his final year of postgraduate studies in the Faculty of Medicine at Universiti Teknologi MARA, said addiction can be caused by many factors and triggers.

“Drugs induce cravings and hijack the brain, making it lose the ability to recognise problems, find solutions, and inhibit destructive impulses, which are reasons why addicts make terrible decisions. Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, ‘Are addicts criminals or victims of their circumstances?’,” he added.

When asked about his chances at the international level, Mohd Hazreen said he will continue to improve his presentation skills and refine his points.

“Anybody who has reached this point of course would want to win but it is most important to have fun and gain experience from science communicators around the globe. I hope to be able to defend the title for Malaysia,” said the 28-year-old, who enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, running and watching crime dramas on Netflix.

FameLab is a science communication competition which requires its participants to engage and entertain the audience in a three-minute science-, technology-, engineering- and mathematics-related subject presentation.

The competition, jointly organised by Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), British Council Malaysia and supported by the Education Ministry and EURAXESS Asean is now in its fifth season.

This year’s competition in Malaysia attracted 62 applicants, while 12 finalists were selected from the Regional Heats held in February and March. The finalists were equipped with science communication skills in a two-day masterclass organised by British Council, delivered by Huw James, a Welsh scientist, adventurer, filmmaker and a science communicator trainer.

Judges included Education Ministry student development division head Dr Zaid Omar; consulting futurist and strategic communicator Dr Liz Alexander; University of Nottingham vice-provost (research and knowledge exchange) Professor Deborah Hall; and Astro Awani senior assistant vice-president and editor-at-large Kamarul Baharin Haron.

The national grand finale also saw wildlife researcher Yap Jo Leen and lecturer Nor Farah Mohamad Fauzi winning the second and third places respectively.

Yap, who is a doctoral student at Universiti Sains Malaysia, founded Langur Project Penang, a community science project on primate research that serves as a wildlife conservation and environmental community. Her presentation was on dusky leaf monkeys in Penang.

“This recognition is not just for me but also for the wildlife. I advocate for monkeys and I hope that more people will know the importance of the animals, and why we should treasure our natural heritage and help make a difference by contributing what we have.

“It is an incredible feeling to be able to stand in front of 250 to 300 people tonight even for just three minutes,” she said, adding that she will continue working on something she is passionate about.

Nor Farah, a lecturer at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, discovered her interest in exercise physiology while pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

“I investigate the effects of exercise on how the body processes fats and carbohydrates from the food we eat,” said Nor Farah, who enjoys nature and has a love-and-hate relationship with yoga, weight training and chocolate cake.

She said she didn’t expect to win but had put a lot of hard work and glad that it has paid off.

Malaysia first took part in the FameLab International in 2015.

Dr Siti Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah was crowned FameLab International Champion at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK last year. She followed in the footsteps of Professor Dr Abhimanyu Veerakumarasivam, who was the first Malaysian to win the title “World’s Best Science Communicator” in 2016.

Since its inception at the Cheltenham Festival in 2005, FameLab has grown into the world’s leading science communication competition. The partnership with the British Council has seen the competition go global with more than 10,000 young scientists and engineers participating to date.

British Council Malaysia director Sarah Deverall said: “FameLab draws on international networks to support researchers in using science communications skills, bridging the gap between science and society.

“The competition strengthens capacity, facilitates collaborations for international research, creates a supportive environment for science development, translation, and innovation and helps build inclusive societies.

“The talent displayed in this year’s national final builds on the excellent standards Malaysia has become renowned for in recent years,” she added.

MIGHT chief executive officer Datuk Dr Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman said FameLab is the ideal platform to expose young professionals and researchers to the public and industry.

“MIGHT would like to see more industry and academia participation and support by bringing FameLab Malaysia to the next level and not just in communicating science.

“We hope that their projects and research can increase scientific literacy, new business opportunities and influence decision makers in science policy matters. FameLab should be the science populariser programme with the support from the media and government.”

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