KUALA LUMPUR – Topping the list of 27 science communicators from around the world, Malaysian scientist Dr Siti Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah has been named the “World’s Best Science Communicator” due to her exceptional performance in the 11th FameLab International competition.
“I wanted to win so badly because I knew many people back in Malaysia were waking up early to cheer me on, praying for my success. But all the contestants were amazing and I think it could have gone to anyone,” Dr. Siti Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah told New Straits Times on July 5.
The Malaysian professor at the School of Biological Sciences in the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) has amazed the audience and judges during the scientific contest with her presentation on diagnosing infectious diseases using biomarkers titled “To Find a Hidden Killer”.
At the six-day Cheltenham Science Festival in UK, each contestant was required to deliver a three-minute presentation on their chosen topic.
“I think I won because I was different. I tried to tap into the audience’s emotions and make them feel something. The judges said my calm and commanding manner was the reason they chose me, but I didn’t feel calm or commanding at all in my head,” she said.
FameLab was brought to Malaysia in 2015 by the British Council in collaboration with the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).
Encouraged by a friend and her family, Hanafiah who is a mother of two boys joined the competition to convey the research challenges for tuberculosis.
“I wanted to tell a story about why it is an important disease. I wanted to relate how biomarkers can address some of the problems we have in controlling the disease.”
“I tried to construct a speech that the audience could relate to, using basic human emotions and weaving the science into the story. I had help from many people — Idzaan from MIGHT, Rowena from the British Council, Abhimanyu, Zaid and other Famelab Malaysia alumni, as well as our trainer from BBC, Dallas Campbell.”
In acknowledgement for her achievement, MIGHT invited Hanafiah last week for a celebration at the science park of Cyberjaya town to honor her.
Hanafiah, who pursued pre-medicine in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and Kuantan in Malaysia, was one of the pioneering batches of students in the Kulliyyah of Science campus of the International Islamic University in Malaysia.
She stayed briefly in Geneva, Switzerland, for an internship with the World Health Organisation (WHO), as part of her master’s programme at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
While pursuing her PhD at Macfarlane Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Australia, she completed a research attachment in Beijing, China.
She began academic research in epidemiology of the Hepatitis C virus infection stemming from an internship at WHO in Geneva.
She developed an interest in tuberculosis, which led to studies on development of diagnostic biomarkers of TB and mucosal infections in her postgraduate training under the supervision of Associate Prof David Anderson.
Her evolving research interests span immunological biomarkers of mucosal infections, antigenic properties of mycobacteria (particularly M. tuberculosis complex), and viral hepatitis (particularly Hepatitis C virus), aimed at improving knowledge gaps in infectious disease diagnostics.