Is it possible to 3D print teeth? This was the title of Michael Braian’s winning presentation in the final of the Researchers’ Grand Prix, which was held on 25 November. In an interview he talks about his passion for knowledge, sources of inspiration for his research and how winning the competition has already opened new doors for his research.
When Michael Braian was ten years old, he was to give a talk about the planet Jupiter to the class. With a pounding heart he stepped forward and stood behind the lectern. He took a deep breath.
”I managed to say ’Jupiter is red’. Then my mind went black, I forgot the rest and ran out of the classroom,” laughs Michael.
Twenty-four years later, Michael, now a dental technician and dentist with a PhD position at Malmö Dental School, has just been named winner in the final of the 2014 Researchers’ Grand Prix.
Researcher’s Grand Prix is a competition, in which researchers have just four minutes to explain their research to a public audience. An expert jury and the audience select the winner. This year’s final took place at the Debaser rock club in Stockholm, with a jury consisting of actress Nour El-Refai, journalist and chief editor Patrick Hadenius and Professor of Astronomy Göran Östlin. The finalists had all reached the final via nine regional heats held in cities around Sweden. Michael’s own path to the final was winning the regional final in Malmö.
Sharing knowledge – a powerful thing
Michael’s recipe for a successful performance is to get the right mixture of three ingredients – verbal message, body language and visual aids – so that they reinforce each other. In terms of stage performance, his role model is Frank Abagnale, the American security consultant whose past life as a forger and conman is portrayed in the Hollywood film Catch me if you can.
”I saw a talk by him eight years ago, a truly magnificent experience, and was struck by how crazy it is that one person can stand on a stage and inspire three thousand people! I have always been driven by a hunger for knowledge, but his lecture made me realise how amazing the transfer knowledge is,” says Michael.
His passion for sharing knowledge was rewarded a few years ago when he won a teacher of the year award at Malmö Dental School. Then this year, the school management asked if Michael would consider entering the Researchers’ Grand Prix.
”I did not know really what it was about when I said yes, but thought it sounded fun.”
While preparing his presentation for the regional heats, Michael put himself in the shoes of the audience, which consisted of high school students.
”I thought back to when I was at high school and how much I knew about teeth when I was 17-18 years old. And it was not much.”
Many opened doors
After winning, Michael was overwhelmed by the great interest in his scientific work, both from the media and the public, but mostly from his profession. The dental world had suddenly become aware of his research.
”I never thought that a little bit of simplification could have such a great effect. Winning has already opened many important doors for potential collaborations and contacts, doors that I previously had to unlock on my own, one at a time. Now I feel that my research has every chance of becoming as great as possible,” he says.
But the best thing he has gained from the Researchers’ Grand Prix is the realisation that his research is really an important contribution to society.
”As a researcher, I have always been driven by my own interests and have primarily been researching for my own pleasure. But now I’ve realised that my research also has an important role to play in society,” says Michael.
Inspiration gained from fascination
Michael gains inspiration for his research from a fascination with human inventiveness, our on-going attempts to improve our daily lives and make things more efficient. He was impressed by what was being achieved by 3D printing in other application areas and was intrigued by its potential in the world of dentistry. The aim of his upcoming thesis is to create a guide for dentists and dental technicians on how to use this type of modern technology, scanners and 3D printers, in their work.
”There has been more and more international research in this area, especially during the last year. In five years’ time, I believe that many dental clinics will be using 3D printers to produce wax models of teeth, which can then be used to cast the teeth in a more durable material,” says Michael.
Remove the academic side of your brain
Conferences and courses are easily accessible channels to reach colleagues and the industry, according to Michael, but it is not so obvious how scientists can reach larger audiences and the general public.
”In that way, the Researchers’ Grand Prix is a unique medium. But next year I intend to participate in Researchers’ Night, I have never tried that before. I’ve got a lot more respect for what it means to reach out to the public now.”
He has two pieces of advice to researchers who are looking to participate in the Researchers’ Grand Prix 2015. The first is to just give it a go!
”The second is to remove the academic side of your brain. Try to explain your research without it! Then you understand just how little you really know about your research. But don’t get frustrated; see it as a challenge,” says Michael.
And it’s not just the winner who gains attention for their research, Michael points out.
”Many of my competitors have also received considerable attention following the final. And really, we are all winners because we have been given an opportunity to present our research to the public.”
Facts about Michael Braian
Age: 34 years
Born in Iran, came to Sweden at the age of four with his parents and his two older brothers.
Family: Partner and daughter aged 15 months
PhD student at Malmö Dental School studying how digitalisation can improve dental care. The project covers the entire production process from how to digitally reproduce the mouth to the 3D printing of the teeth.