Friday, 24 December 2010

Festive Science Films

It's Christmas and then means time for some festive films!

This year we've posted two from the Periodic Table of Videos.

The first is a montage of highlights from our films throughout 2010.

The second is a message from Professor Poliakoff telling everyone about the International Year of Chemistry in 2011 (and our plans for a new series called Chem Definition).

And here's this year's themed film from Sixty Symbols - it's Merry Christmas on a snow flake.

Of course, there's no harm in sharing a few more videos. here's our festive film from 2009, which is still one of my favourite ideas!

And here is a Sixty Symbols video from last year discussing the Christmas star!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Making a Space Camera

I'm very excited to have posted the first proper video for the Backstage Science video project.

It's all about a special camera being built to fly on a space telescope.

The camera is called MIRI - the Mid Infrared Instrument - and it will fly on the James Webb Space Telescope.

It was the first time I'd filmed in a "clean room" and wanted viewers to see how careful people must be when working on space instruments.

The most time-consuming job was cleaning MY video camera to take inside.

Have to admit I was quite excited by being up close to a camera which will fly in space and (hopefully) become so important!

Backstage Science is a project I'm doing with the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

They'll be letting me visit various labs, experiments and major facilities across the UK.

I'm hoping the videos will feel like we've all been given a "backstage pass" - seeing all the little details you don't always get to see in typical science videos.

I've already filmed at a few locations and look forward to posting more videos in 2011.

You can follow the project on YouTube or Twitter or Facebook.

There are also a few photos being posted to Flickr.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Antihydrogen and Dan Brown

We have been a bit slow to post this (for numerous reasons) but here's our Sixty Symbols video on antihydrogen.

It follows the announcement that scientists at CERN had trapped a small amount of the elusive "substance".

An interesting point raised by Professor Mike Merrifield.

While acknowledging it as a significant breakthrough, he pondered if it received more publicity than one might expect because of the Dan Brown book (and subsequent film) Angels and Demons.

In that tale, a container of antimatter is stolen from CERN and used for evil purposes.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

My Top 10 videos for 2010

It's the time of year when everyone does "top ten" lists for the year.

So here are my favorite films for 2010, chosen from the various projects I work on.

They're in no particular order.

1. CHEESEBURGER IN ACID (from periodicvideos)
Sometimes you do something just because you're curious! Here we put a cheeseburger in hydrochloric acid (the same type of acid found in our stomachs). If you like this, check out what we did to Coke cans!

2. FILLING AIR BAGS (from Test Tube)
This is a sentimental choice. Seamus Garvey was one of the first people I filmed at the Uniersity of Nottingham and he told me about a dream he had involving inflatable underwater airbags. This is the moment his dream became reality!

3. STANLEY FALKOW (from My Favourite Scientist)
My Favourite Scientist is a new project launched later in 2010. I chose the Stanley Falkow video because the subject himself watched and enjoyed the video. Read more about it in a previous blog post.

This year we invited Sixty Symbols viewers to submit questions and my favourite was definitely "what would happen if you put your hand in front of the beam at the Large Hadron Collider". I had a feeling it would make a great video. And when I saw the reactions of the scientists... well, here it is. Currently the most watched video on Sixty Symbols.

5. DARMSTADT & SUPERHEAVY ELEMENTS (from periodicvideos)
I've been lucky enough to travel to a few interesting and exotic places this year. But the most interesting from a scientific perspective was Darmstadt, where many of the artifical elements are created in a giant particle collider.

6. THE HOLY SEPULCHRE (from bibledex)
Another trip which impressed me away was to Israel for our Bibledex project. We travelled from the Dead Sea in the south to Galilee in the north. But the video I've chosen is the one we filmed in Christianity's most holy church, the traditional site of Jesus's death and burial. It was amazing that we could just walk in and start filming. (If you've not seen our Bibledex videos you should... they are not religious and are pitched at people that just find stuff interesting)

7. FLUORINE (from periodicvideos)
One of the real weak spots on our Periodic Table of Videos was always our fluorine video. The most reactive element in chemistry was one of our most disappointing videos because we didn't have access to the raw ingredient. That changed when we visited a helpful expert at the nearby University of Leicester.

8. WORLD CUP FOOTBALL PHYSICS (from Sixty Symbols)
Of course 2010 was a World Cup year and we made several videos to mark the event, including a chemistry video about World Cup trophy which made international headlines! But here I've chosen one about the world cup ball, mainly because it was so much fun to get some scientists in lab coats to take free kicks and conduct a penalty shoot-out... A sight you rarely see.

9. GAS BALLOON TAKE-OFF (from Test Tube)
I've been following the adventures of Janet Folkes for a long time and it was great to see her taking off in the Gordon Bennett gas balloon race. It was a long day of filming but the shots were beautiful. Janet had a successful flight, but sadly two of her friends died when they flew into a storm off the coast of Italy.

10. WORLD'S SMALLEST PERIODIC TABLE (from periodicvideos)
Maybe I'm choosing this because it is so fresh in my mind - but I can't help thinking it is pretty cool. It features two icons of our chemistry videos - the periodic table itself and Martyn Poliakoff's hair!

My thanks to the men and women who share their knowledge and time... It's a joy to film them and be allowed to ask so many silly questions.

And finally thanks to everyone who watches my videos... If you didn't watch them, I probably wouldn't get to make them!

PS: A few more videos I couldn't resist mentioning.

The Periodic table of Videos trip to India

Chemistry in the Clouds

The Professor on Viagra

Samovar from Words of the World

The Vacuum Cannon (I really do have it in for Coke cans, don't I?)

Taking our show on the road to Turin

Friday, 17 December 2010

The World's Smallest Periodic Table

This blog is supposed to give some "behind the scenes" insights about my videos.

So today I'm going to give away a little secret about our latest video - The World's Smallest Periodic Table.

First, here is the video itself:

I had the idea for the video a few weeks ago when filming a Sixty Symbols video which used the electron microscope.

During that video, we kept comparing everything to "the width of a human hair".

I guess it wasn't much of a creative leap to think of Professor Martyn Poliakoff's memorable hair and imagine etching a periodic table onto one of the strands.

So here's the little secret!

It was simply coincidence that the microscope was available (ie: not being used for real science) on The Professor's birthday - December 16.

So it was a last-minute decision to centre the video around the birthday.

And so far I feel a bit like the decision has backfired.

That's because most of our YouTube viewers seem more excited about wishing Martyn a happy birthday than commenting on our "world first periodic table (*)".

Serves me right for breaking my own golden rule, which I constantly repeat to the scientists: "A video should only be about ONE thing!"

PS: There is a bonus video of extra footage from the shoot... Here it is:

(*) We are speculating that our periodic table is the world's smallest simply because we've not seen or heard of one smaller. It's not a claim we've verified though and is simply meant to be a bit of fun!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Professor as a movie star

We've released the results of the Periodic Table of Videos poster contest.

You can see who won the main prizes at this link or watch the video below.

Rather than focus on our worthy winners, I thought I'd use this blog post to highlight a few others.

In particular those posters which portrayed out famously frizzy-haired Professor Poliakoff as a star of the silver screen.

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars
Periodic Table of Videos Poster Competition

Tony Montana in Scarface
Periodic Table of Videos Poster Competition

The Exorcist
Periodic Table of Videos Poster Competition

Don Corleone in The Godfather
Periodic Table of Videos Poster Competition

Forrest Gump
Periodic Table of Videos Poster Competition

A T-Rex from Jurassic Park
Periodic Table of Videos Poster Competition

James Bond in Gold Finger
Periodic Table of Videos Poster Competition

See more posters on Flickr

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Writing on a snowflake

The UK has been blanketed in snow for at least a week now.

So we couldn't resist making a Sixty Symbols video on the topic.

Initially I think Professor Phil Moriarty planned to discuss the shapes and properties of snowflakes - itself an interesting topic.

However when filming started, things kind of changed.

We teamed up with the the guys running the electron microscope to look at snow.

They showed us how thy are able to use a beam of ions to "engrave" at an unimaginable scale.

Displaying quite a sense of fun, they etched "Merry Christmas" onto a shard of snowflake

You can see a picture of it here.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Chemical Garden

Today we posted a video about a chemical garden... And it has had an impact already.

First, here is the video:

As a result, one of our viewers and Twitter followers made their own garden.

Here's the effort posted by @LeighJKBoerner just a few hours later.

Nice one.

By the way, we have a second video which shows our chemical garden's growth in more detail. Here it is:

Plenty More Words

I've stepped up production lately on Words of the Word.

The main website is really starting to look quite busy...

Below are some of the more recent videos, with plenty more on the way before Christmas (including words like Volkswagen and Castro).