Amsterdam institute for Infection and Immunity researcher Alexandra Cloherty won the Dutch FameLab final of the annual science communication competition with an impressive talk on her research into decluttering viruses. Almost 200 people witnessed the online event, which this year was hosted by TU/e on occasion of its 65th anniversary. Alexandra will represent the Netherlands at the international FameLab final later this year.

Like all contestants, Cloherty was not allowed to use slides in her talk. Only words, and an optional prop, in her case a black stuffed HIV virus and a plastic trash bag, were allowed. The jury, who came to its decision after 20 minutes of deliberations, praised Alexandra for the clarity with which she presented a difficult subject. “She was really able to connect to audience, and showed lots of energy and enthusiasm”, according to jury chair Liza Cornet, herself winner of FameLab 2020.

Besides Liza, the jury included Ruchi Bansal of the University of Twente, Jim Jansen, editor-in-chief for the science magazine New Scientist and Chiel van Heerwaarden, of Wageningen University. The event was presented by TU/e science information officer Barry Fitzgerald.


Cloherty’s research focuses on better understanding autophagy, a natural mechanism that our body has developed to ‘declutter’ viruses. Alexandra: “Just like our homes, cells can accumulate all kinds of stuff. But with cells the clutter consists of viruses. Cells use autophagy to collect these viruses, break them up and remove them. Just like we humans do when we are cleaning our house. By understanding autophagy, we can finetune it, helping our body to fight diseases like HIV.”

HARD DECISION The jury praised all ten contestants - representing four Dutch universities (Wageningen University & Research (WUR), University of Twente (UT), Amsterdam UMC, and TU/e) - for their inspiring presentations. “It was incredible hard to make a decision. Many candidates scored very high, and impressed us with the quality of the pitches, and the confidence they showed in answering our questions. But in the end, Alexandra Cloherty was the real winner! We are proud that she will represent the Netherlands at the international final of FameLab.” Alexandra was overjoyed by her win. “I just couldn’t believe. I had to turn my camera off because I was screaming!”