Over the last year, more than 2700 young scientists around the world took three minutes to share their breakthrough, making the case that their chosen problem would be “the next wall to fall.” It’s a tall order – communicating the scope of the problem, the technical wizardry of the solution, and the scope of the impact – in so short a time, all with a measure of wit, humor, and showmanship.
And from that global playing field, 100 have made it to today’s Falling Walls Lab Final: the winners of 68 preliminary Lab competitions as well as a number of “at-large” candidates. This morning, as the fog lifted and the sun illuminated the Brandenburg Gate next door, participants climbed three storeys of impressively shallow stairs at the Academy of Arts in central Berlin, gathering with anticipation. With a remarkable jury of accomplished scientists and entrepreneurs ready to strike, the lab got started, with early assaults on the walls of childhood cancer (through personalized genetic analyses), sanitation (with microbial electrochemical cells), and inadequate education for refugee children (via crowdsourced lessons).
“Labsters” typically present ideas that are at an inflection point. They may have promising initial findings, bolstered by publications or initial trials. They may have a market, with billions of Euros at stake. They may have a business plan, well-placed advisors, and a strategy for scalability. But turning these building blocks into reality is a very different undertaking, and jury members cut to the point with surgical precision. Today’s winners will run that guantlet successfully, convincing the experts that their idea is ready to break down walls.