Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A science outreach idea, what do you think?

I live on a cul-de-sac where we are lucky enough to know and enjoy hanging out with many of our neighbors. Many have kids who play with our kids. It's like when I was a kid, and I thought those days had passed, but they haven't. (As an aside, I love hyphen-ating words, but it bothers me that cul-de-sac is hyphen-ated.)

Many of my neighbors really enjoy hearing about the science we're doing in the lab, and I really enjoy talking about it with them. This actually led to a very fun event we did during Winter Break where I brought in some neighbors to our Junior Physics lab course so they could get hands-on experience with some very cool physics. You can check out our OpenWetWare page (unfinished) for the event (sorry the facebook page seems to be private). A brief summary is that I only had to invest a few hours of time, and I think the attendees really enjoyed it. I know I did.

Recently I had an idea for science outreach that I'd like your opinion on. The idea is that I (or a student) will explain our research to one of our biggest neighbor fans. Then, we'll record an interview with him describing our science, what we do, it's importance, etc., from his point of view. Or we could do it with a couple neighbors talking. But the main point is that the non-scientists will be explaining the science to the (mostly) non-scientist audience on youtube.

There are a few reasons I think this may be useful and fun. First, I always find it informative and fun to hear people "re-describe" our research to someone else after I've described it (unless it's printed in a magazine). Second, I have an inkling that it would be effective for communicating to non-scientists. Third, the people I have in mind for this project are very good at picking out the essence of what I'm telling them, and distilling it down to the exciting parts in layman's terms.

So, do you think this is a good idea? Maybe it's been tried before many times, and if so, please send me the links. If we do give this a whirl, there is one thing I'd like to figure out how to do:
  • Record video with two cameras (for example, one on me, one on him)
  • Splice and edit the video to make a good video for posting to youtube
I'd really appreciate advice on software and hardware to use for those purposes. Thanks!


  1. This sounds like a good experiment - doesn't hurt to try (well, a couple hours of time spent) and you may have hit on a really useful dissemination concept.

    If you can, perhaps 3 cameras would be best - so you can get shots with both of you in it. Switching back and forth on just head shots might make you guys seem too separated. Perhaps you can achieve this with one camera though, and crop the video? I don't know if you can do that.

    Are you planning to make it interactive, e.g. walking around the lab, drawing things on whiteboards, using props or posters or data viz on computer screens? It would make it a bit more involved but it could make for a much more interesting video.

  2. Since I don't know how to do two cameras, but I'm assuming it's not too difficult, then I don't see why we couldn't use three :) What I had in mind was to to the filming in my neighborhood -- so like somebody's living room -- using props we can find around the house. E.g, you can demonstrate DNA unzipping by peeling apart string that's made of two strands. But really I'm not set on anything, and if / when we try it out, we'll just go with what is fun and seems effective. Hopefully youtube voting will give us some feedback.

  3. I like this idea, too, Steve. Today in class, a student gave a very nice description of his research mostly because he was including me (a non-biologist) in his audience. The result was a lovely, well-formed explaination that I feel I could relate to someone else with a good degree of "non-stupidity" (ooh, as a linguist, I like hyphenating, too!). I think this project is as beneficial to the scientist as the student; in fact, there are lots of outreach programs that do something similar in the school system. The result is an expert with really good communication skills...I gotta admit, that's a serious highlight of my job!

    As an aside, if your neighbors seriously enjoy listening to you talk physics while watching kids zoom about on bikes and such, then you must be doing a pretty good job of communicating yourself! I've tried getting through Hawkings "A Brief History of Time" and never -- in all 3 attempts -- made it past page 50!

    February 12, 2009 4:43 PM

  4. You can always use Jahshaka(.org), an open source editing video for several video/audio tracks. Good luck with your project!

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