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‘Golden’ geologist brings back top science communication prize

Tshiamo Legoale, a South African geologist, was on 9 June crowned the winner of FameLab International, a competition designed to give exposure to young, vibrant scientists.

FameLab International is a TED talks-style competition where scientists from around the world showcase their work in three minutes in off-beat or exciting ways. It is held during the Cheltenham Science Festival in the United Kingdom in partnership with the British Council.

Legoale’s research on the ability of plants to extract metals through their roots targets South Africa’s prominent export: gold. She uses wheat to tap into unexplored gold reserves through a novel process called phytomining.

“It represents a sunrise in the lives of many people,” Legoale said in her presentation. “Very many people are disadvantaged and technologies such as phytomining can place all of us walking in fields of gold,” she added, singing the last part.

Young scientists from 31 countries competed for the prize. Three African scientists—all women—reached the final, from Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda. Mauritius took part in the competition for the first time this year, backed by its scientist president Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.

Legoale received a hero’s welcome when she landed back in Johannesburg on 10 June.

“It is extremely exhilarating being up on that stage,” said Legoale, who works at Mintek and is enrolled for a masters degree at the University of the Free State. She said her supervisor had entered her in the competition.

“Social media showed me a lot of love and support. When I felt unconfident they gave me ‘likes’ and that boosted a bit of my confidence,” she said in a statement.