Sand Piles, Parental Leave, Light in Mirror Maze: Hundreds attend the Open Air Excellence Slam

What the transport of piles of sand has to do with modern data analysis - that&r

What the transport of piles of sand has to do with modern data analysis - that’s what mathematician Franca Hoffmann from the Cluster of Excellence HCM talked about in her slam. © Volker Lannert / Uni Bonn

Hundreds attend the Open Air Excellence Slam for an extraordinary research experience

Scientists from the Bonn Clusters of Excellence gave brief ’slam’ presentations about their research on the Arkadenhof courtyard  in a humor and creativity-filled contest in which ultimately everybody was a winner.

The last ringing of the bell that evening alerted geodesist Lukas Drees of the PhenoRob Cluster of Excellence that he had one minute left to wind up his slam, given on a brightly lit stage before an audience of around 600. The crowd was there in the arcaded courtyard of the University Main Building to hear him and his colleagues from other Bonn Clusters give talks as part of an "Excellence Slam". Behind him, colorful van Gogh pictures extend across a giant canvas as he elucidates a connection between these artworks and AI-generated plant photos for use in agriculture. The speaker’s conclusion: his research content, while not art,is of significance. And the audience apparently agreed, voting his presentation the winner of the evening.

Everyone taking part in this little competition between the Clusters of Excellence was effectively a winner that humor and creativity-filled evening, as the goal was achieved of getting people greatly interested in the presenters’ research. Economist Barbara Boelmann (ECONtribute), physicist Andreas Redmann (ML4Q), biologist Nóra Balzer (ImmunoSensation2) and mathematician Franca Hoffmann (HCM) had been preparing for the evening for weeks, as had Lukas Drees (PhenoRob).

Their entertaining ’slams’ touched on such intriguing individual topics like: how differences in (former) West German and East German culture are reflected in differing parental leave periods, what happens with light in a mirror maze, how children’s immune system is already influenced in the womb and how transporting sand piles is relevant to modern data analysis. Upon on the stage they pulled out all the stops, riding an e-scooter around on stage, holding up boiled eggs as a prop and showing videos and pictures that earned laughs from the audience. The master of ceremonies, biologist David Fußhöller, is proud of how well his "slammers" did, who originally hosted this competition between the three Clusters of Excellence existing back in 2018. At this, his second appearance, there were now six such Clusters (more than any other German university).

Researchers have taken to the stage to give people outside the ’university bubble’ a look inside their work-in doing so representing all of the other researchers active within the Clusters of Excellence. The audience is varied, including some curious Bonn residents who dropped by on the spur of the moment to see what it’s all about, sitting alongside loudly cheering members of the Cluster fan clubs. While somewhat more informed, the fan club members too learned a lot of new things on that summer evening, since in many cases the study areas and research fields of the individual slammers have little if any connection.

The winner was announced shortly after 10 pm, by which time it was clear as well that the event had been a total success, absolutely requiring another Slam to be planned. From the labs and workrooms of our University of Excellence there will surely come no shortage of interesting material.

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