Falling Walls Lab 2019

I was lucky enough to compete in the Falling Walls Lab 2019 finals this past week in Berlin, Germany! Falling Walls Lab is an international scientific innovation competition where one has two slides and 3 minutes to pitch their research (and answer questions!) to a jury and audience. There are two rounds: the first was a series of local competitions, which chose 100 finalists from around the world. In the second round, the finalists gather in Berlin for the second round of competition.

Luckily for me, my local Falling Walls Lab competition was hosted at SLAC in September! I was unsure of whether I was going to apply because the deadline for application was the day after I got back from the OMSC workshop, but man am I glad that I did! My local competition featured talks on the cutting-edge science done at SLAC to a startup centered around carbon sequestration, but my virtual-reality interactive simulations just managed to eke ahead and I was able to take first place.

Thanks to the official SLAC Twitter for tweeting about me after the local competition!

After a round of feedback from my local jury members, I submitted my final slides in early October, and before I knew it, it was November and I was off to Europe again! The first few days were an opportunity to mingle with the other competitors and also to learn about the scientific research opportunities in Germany. I got to visit the Fritz-Haber Insitute, a world-class chemistry research facility and one of the campuses of the Max Planck Society, and was even able to see their free electron laser setup. Theirs is designed for infrared radiation and so fits in a large basement, unlike the one at SLAC designed for X-rays – in fact, I’ve been inspired to try and make a post about the two soon!

The Fritz-Haber Institute was first opened for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1911.

Finally, the day of the competition was here. This year’s Falling Walls conference is particularly meaningful as it falls on the 30 year anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down. Our competition opened with a moving interview of Professor Jens Reich, a molecular biologist who gave a speech during the Alexanderplatz demonstration on November 4th, 1989. After his sentiments that science should be pursued regardless of what obstacles stand in our way, the morning was packed with three minute presentations spanning the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, and the environment. I really enjoyed the rest of the talks as well – despite the vast number of them, I found I was actually able to stay alert and interested for the whole 5 hours of presentations throughout the day.

The stage and ever-present timer for the Falling Walls Lab finals.

I came on in slot 41, directly after the lunch break. I was very happy to be first in the session since it gave me less time to overthink my presentation. While not as smooth as some other presenters, I had no major stumbling blocks and was able to answer two questions very succinctly. While I didn’t win, I was very proud of this effort and am very grateful to have the opportunity to share my research on such a prestigious stage!

The following day was completely packed with exploring Berlin. I saw the Reichstag and Brandenberg Gate, walked through 3 museums and one university, saw the Berlin Wall, and ate sausages and sauerkraut. Unfortunately I fell sick the next day and had to cut my exploration short, but overall it was a fantastic experience: meeting new people from all over the world, hearing about their innovations for the future, and exploring a new country and city.

Thank you Falling Walls for the opportunity, and to everyone for listening to my ideas on how we can bring quantum chemistry into schools, museums, and one day even into homes.

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