Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Where Easter Happened

This is a place I knew nothing about before traveling to Jerusalem on our Bibledex roadtrip.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the supposed spot of Christ's crucifixion and burial (and resurrection, if that's what you believe!)

Unlike many tourist spots, there's some "evidence" that this spot's for real, according to the scholars.

Two points before viewing

1) Don't be put off if you normally watch my science videos... This video's aimed at people (like me) who like interesting stuff but don't like being preached at.

2) If you watch nothing else, check out the funny bit about the immovable ladder in the video's final minute!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Adventure in Hawaii

Today I've posted a bunch of films and pictures about an astronomy trip to Hawaii.

Boris Häußler did the hard work by taking a small video camera along to the UKIRT telescope, perched on the famous volcano Mauna Kea.

Here's the main video we made for Sixty Symbols.

A selection of Boris's photos can be found on our Flickr page at this link.

And if you just can't get enough, here's some extra interview footage and video of the summit drive, which we popped on our "behind the scenes" project, Test Tube.

The idea was to show what these observing trips are really like.... I hope it came across.

Next time I'd like to go along myself to film it... but I think Boris did a better job with the camera than I would have with the telescope!

Top Five from Nurdrage

Here's another "viewer's top five" from The Periodic Table of Videos.

This one comes from the mysterious creator of the Nurdrage channel on YouTube - a great collection of videos in its own right and well worth a look.

Nurdrage's favourite videos are:


Nurdrage says: "Excellent demonstration of the pyrophoricity of alkyl zinc compounds."


Nurdrage says: "It's very interesting to see solid metals dissolving into a liquid metal at room temperature."


Nurdrage says: "I've always liked reactions that occur spontaneously."


Nurdrage says: "Excellent demonstration showing how a carbon dioxide can be an oxidant rather than a waste product in a reaction."


Nurdrage says: "Most non-scientists don't realize it but being able to measure something, anything, is the most important and sought after ability in science. Observations are what separate science from philosophy. The molecular snapshot is a step forward in our ability to observe."

Many thanks to Nurdrage to taking the time to share a top five.... Previous top fives have been contributed by Alex and Sarah, and we have a few more to come.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Captions on Videos

The University of Nottingham's "Alternative Formats Service" has produced English captions for 10 of my YouTube videos.

It was bit of a pilot project but we're hoping more can be done... Let us know what you think?

Here are the 10 videos we captioned across various projects.

You switch on captions using the little triangle icon at the bottom right corner of the video player.











Friday, 26 March 2010

Cheeseburger in Acid

Sometimes we just have fun....

The video can be found on YouTube at

It was filmed as part of our Periodic Table of Videos film about hydrochloric acid, though at the time of writing the final HCl video had not been posted.

I just thought the burger was fun so made it as a stand-alone video also.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

A bit of everything

From cheeseburger experiments to medieval manuscripts.... today was crazy!

However I think it was a good demonstration of the variety you encounter as a video journalist.

Here's how it unfolded....

My first assignment was filming Professor Tom O'Loughlin for the Bibledex project.

Tom discussed four books of the Bible - Ezra, Joel, Jude and Titus. I knew nothing about them, so it was quite illuminating and a bit controversial at times.

Next stop was the office of engineer Professor Seamus Garvey. Test Tube followers will know I've been filming Seamus for well over two years as he works toward his goal of giant undersea energy bags.

Today Seamus revealed a big milestone - the formation of a company. I filmed a short interview with him to mark the occasion.

Next stop was the School of Chemistry for the next episode of The Periodic Table of Videos.

Here I teamed up with Dr Darren Walsh for a new video we're making about hydrochloric acid.... It involved dunking a cheeseburger in acid and starting some timelapse video.....

Leaving the chesseburger to react in acid, I was off to meet Professor Thorlac Turville-Petre.

He told me about his research into medieval manuscripts for the What's the Point series - a look into why people study arts and humanities subjects. It was fascinating.

Then to meet with Professor Ed Copeland to film some clips about dark matter for an upcoming addition to the Sixty Symbols website.

We also had a useful discussion about particle physics and ideas for upcoming videos for the project.

Then it was astronomer Boris Häußler. He's just back from a telescope observing trip in Hawaii and took a camera along on my behalf... Today we recorded some voice-over and explanations for the footage. The video should be ready soon for Sixty Symbols or Test Tube - or maybe both.

Last stop was that cheeseburger, discovering what the hydrochloric acid had done.

The results were interesting and will appear very soon on the Periodic Table of Videos...

Anyway, that was my day.....Now I'm writing this blog and putting all the footage onto my computer! More filming tomorrow, then a big afternoon session of editing.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Alternative Top Five

Here's another viewer's "top five films" from The Periodic Table of Videos.

This list comes a younger viewer - Alex, known as chemiealex on YouTube.

He has chosen to reveal his list in reverse order - perhaps to maximize the suspense!


Alex says: "It's very interesting to see the professor working in the lab. Even if it's just about cooking an egg."


Alex says: "I like the experiments and Pete is very amusing. Oh, and Neil is always eating in the lab!"


Alex says: "Well, Steve is one of my favourite presenters on your videos (which actually are all of you), as he works with some very interesting compounds. I like the way he's speaking and demonstrating."


Alex says: "In this video an important laboratory technique is presented and you can see how a chemist works. Very interesting!"


Alex says: "As I've already said I really like Steve. And Uranium is a substance you don't see every day. Again a laboratory technique is presented."

Many thanks to Alex, who clearly likes to see lab work in action.....

You can see an earlier top five submitted by Sarah at this link. I note Sarah and Alex shared no videos in common!

We have a few more top fives in the pipeline, including some from the people who actually make the films. And if you want to submit a list of your own, I'll pop it on the blog.

Monday, 22 March 2010

What's the point...

What's the Point is a small video project I'm doing with academics at the University of Nottingham, exploring research into the arts and humanities.

The latest video is an interview with Dr Simon Oliver, asking "what's the point of theology?"

Simon is also a contributor to my Bibledex video project - where I'm making a video about every book of the Bible.

There was some extra footage from this video that I had to cut... but uploaded it as a separate video because it was still interesting!

Simon also contributed to a video I made about Isaac Newton.

You can see more from the What's The Point series on its YouTube channel.

I've made four films, and more are coming soon.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Top Five Chemistry Films....

I've asked some of our regular viewers to list their top five videos from the Periodic Table of Videos (we've posted more than 200).

I thought it might be fun - and it's always useful to know what people do and don't like.

The first contribution comes from regular viewer Sarah, known on YouTube as CoolMinty and on Twitter as @SarahScientist

Here are her five choices in "no particular order".


Sarah says: "The Christmas Special with the Chemical Sisters is a fun video for my favourite season. I watched this many times when it was first made and thought it a great idea making an instrument out of test tubes. It's nice to see which elements people like and why. I expected Steve Liddle's favourite element to be Uranium and am still intrigued to know what it really is?"


Sarah says: "It has cake and explosions, need I say more? Lovely way to celebrate PTOV's first birthday."


Sarah says: "My favourite element, even if some people think it is evil. I learned a bit more about it too."


Sarah says: "This shows how scientists work when going on trips/conferences/ meetings etc. It is a fine example of science communication, encouraging kids and shows how PTOV's can be used in schools."


Sarah says: "Fascinating to see two (eccentric) scientists chatting about chemistry and this shows how innovative science can be."

Thanks again to Sarah.

I'll be posting a few more top fives over the next few weeks or months (including my own, although is that a bit like choosing your favourite child!!!?).

Your own contributions are also welcome.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Black Holes and YouTube attention span

This video about Black Holes has become the first Sixty Symbols video to be watched 100,000 times.

It reached the milestone just ahead of our video about the drinking bird (97,000 at time of writing)....

But this brings me to my observation on the black holes video.

Because people have short attention spans, I often try to put the best material near the start of a video, otherwise viewers may never see it.

That's especially true for a video as long as this one about black holes, which weighs in at a whopping 6 minutes and 37 seconds.....

However YouTube viewer comments show the part of this video which intrigues many people comes near the end.

From about the five-minute mark Omar Almaini (the astronomer in the film) reveals images from the centre of the Milky Way, and "proof" of the enormous black hole which lives there!

YouTube "hotspot" data backs up the anecdotal evidence that this section of the video is popular

Here is the graph for the black holes video:

And here is YouTube's explanation of what the graph means...

"The ups-and-downs of viewership at each moment in your video, compared to videos of similar length. The higher the graph, the hotter your video: fewer viewers are leaving your video and they may also be rewinding to watch that point in the video again. Audience attention is an overall measure of your video's ability to retain its audience."

Friday, 19 March 2010

Debbie Does... Boron Tribromide

Our very own Debbie Kays features in the latest addition to the Periodic Table of Videos - a film about the molecule Boron Tribromide.

Debbie's mild obsession with Boron has been a long-running joke amongst the team - she studied it extensively for her PhD and has discussed in several other videos.

She even hung a boron-based molecule on our Christmas Chemistry Tree a few months back.

Boron Tribromide is probably an unlikely molecule to have featured in our series about molecules, but I like to throw in things that people don't expect.

If we make every video about all the famous molecules like water, carbon dioxide, etc, we'd be a bit boring and predictable.

I like that no-one can guess what me might do next!

And if you've watched it, this new video is a little unpredictable in its own right - especially Professor Poliakoff's unexpected discussion of Lewis Acids and the mysterious death of Gilbert Lewis himself.

Trivia for the real PTOV geeks: If you're super observant, you'll have noticed the cover of Debbie's PhD features her maiden name!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

My bag of tricks...

I've started this blog to share a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes each week producing videos for the likes of The Periodic Table of Videos, Sixty Symbols and Bibledex.

I hope to shed more light on how and why we make our films - and maybe share some funny stories about it all.

I thought I'd start with my kit bag... It's something a lot of people ask about on our YouTube channels.

I got some of it out to show you all (which seemed like a good idea until I had to pack it away afterwards!)

So what is it all?

First is my main camera, which is a Sony Z7 (labelled 1 in the pic)... It's great and not too intimidating for the poor scientists who find it stuck up their noses.

I've replaced the standard microphone with a Sennheiser gun mike (2). It's big fluffy covering (to reduce wind noise) is attractive to various exotic animals, including tapirs. I speak from experience!

I also have a Sennheiser radio mike and receiver (3), which I clip onto interviewees to get the best possible sound.

Then I have some extra cameras which come in handy for getting bonus shots...

First a little Sony HDR-XR105 which is basically what many people would have as their Handycam (4) - I use it for that "second angle" or if I'm too lazy to get out the the Z7.

It's also less conspicuous, which can be useful.

The whole Safari Sunday Series was filmed on this smaller camera, which gets some great HD footage for such a tiny bit of kit...

I also have two much smaller cameras for filming things in hard-to-reach places (insert joke).

First a virtually indestructible little Oregon Scientific (5) on permanent loan from my brother-in-law..... We strapped it to a rocket to get some of the cool shots in this video.

Then there's my miniscule MUVI camera (6) which can be put virtually anywhere (insert another joke)... Chemistry daredevil Pete Licence wore one on his lab coat during a lecture for this video...

The latest addition to the collection is a Casio EX-F1 camera (7) which can be used for filming in super slow motion, as we showed in this film.... Can't wait to use it more....

There are a few other things in the bag - a light (8), spare batteries (9), blank tapes, chargers, etc.

It's all lugged around in a Portabrace kit bag (10) with plenty of zippers and pockets... I never leave home without it!

I have a few tripods, but use them only occasionally if we're setting up some big experiment I want specially filmed from various angles, such as in this case...

Anyway, that's probably enough detail for all the camera geeks out there.

Better get back to work actually using all this stuff!