Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Cold atoms won ForskerFight researcher battle

Can you compare atoms to bowling balls? PhD student Nils Byg Jørgensen did - and won the researcher battle.

2015.09.28 | Signe Schou

Seven PhD students, seven topics. Each participant has four minutes to describe his or her research interest and argue for its importance. Getting the message across in a lively, accessible way is crucial, because the audience votes for their favourite.

An atomic fairytale

Niels Byg Jørgensen’s story about cold atoms starts in a lab in a basement under a parking lot at Aarhus University. Here, researchers can create the coldest environment in the universe, with temperatures just above absolute zero. And when atoms are cooled down to these temperatures, we can learn new things about their properties which have important applications, for example in relation to how superconductors work. The audience was immediately captivated by Jørgensen’s tale, which compared atoms to bowling balls and particles of light to table tennis balls - and in which researchers were portrayed as heroes who defy obstacles and solve mysteries.

The Danish University Extension is behind the annual ForskerFight researcher battle. And a packed lecture hall testified to the enormous public interest in the latest advances in the world of research. Communicating with a wider audience is an important aspect of research, emphasises AU Pro-rector Berit Eika, who was a member of the ForskerFight panel of judges. “Junior researchers have become very conscious of what an important part of their role communication is. Today, being able to communicate the practical applications one’s research is crucial in order to attract funding in an extremely tough competitive environment.”

AIDS with balloons

The researchers in ForskerFight used unconventional methods to engage their audience. Sara Konstantin Nissen, an AIDS researcher, popped a balloon full of confetti to illustrate how the virus spreads among cells. And Ulrich Thy Jensen, who works on public management, used a carrot as a baton while explaining the meaning of employee motivation.

“Good research communication is about finding a light tone while at the same time bringing all of the weight of your knowledge to bear,” explains panel judge Pernille Bandholm Jacobsen, who also highlights the importance of using everyday language and familiar objects when explaining complex ideas. Daring to add a personal dimension is also important. For example, Silke Stjerneklar began her presentation on anxiety by pretending to call the event organisers and cancel her presentation because she was afraid to perform on stage. The judges praised her for this: “The researcher uses herself as a subject, and we see a person who is afraid, and we identify with her.”

Curiosity is the driving force

Pro-rector Eika applauds the broad perspective on knowledge and research represented by these junior researchers, as well as their ability to communicate in an engaging way. “Even very narrow topics can - and must - be communicated. This makes us wiser as a population, and the curiosity we see in the faces of these researchers is the engine that drives our society forward.”

Participants in ForskerFight 2015:

  • Alexander Fjældstad, Department of Clinical Medicine: Smell and illness - can you smell if the end is near?
  • Jakob Holm Jørgensen, iNANO: Intelligent design - man-made materials on the atomic scale
  • Ulrich Thy Jensen, Department of Political Science: The drive within - can leadership and motivation contribute to better public sector service?
  • Sara Constantine Nissen, Department of Biomedicine: The mystery of AIDS - why do immune cells die, and can we prevent it?
  • Nils Byg Jørgensen, Department of Physics and Astronomy: The coolest stuff in the world - a leap into the future with ultracold atoms
  • Silke Stjerneklar, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences: Online treatment for anxiety - a glimpse into the future?
  • Micki Sonne Kaa Sunesen, Danish School of Education: Making the world a better place for learning - learning at the intersection of brain and context


  • Ulrik Haagerup, Executive Director of DR News, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation
  • Berit Eika, Pro-rector, Aarhus University
  • Pernille Bandholm Jacobsen, consultant, Klods Hans for Viderekomne

ForskerFight was presented by the Danish University Extension as part of the festival Hearts and Minds.

Events, Public/Media, External target group, AU Communication, Technical / administrative staff, All AU units, Academic staff