Friday, 30 April 2010

Terbium and Ytterby

Periodic Table of Videos viewers may have noticed our new video this week about element 65 - Terbium.

It contains footage shot in Yttertby, Sweden, where the element was discovered.

I travelled to Ytterby with Pete Licence in November 2008 (was it really that long ago!?)

Some photos from the trip are here.

We made a series of films, the main one being this.

However while we were in the snow-filled quarry, we filmed little updates for the four main elements named after the village (Ytterbium, Yttrium, Terbium and Erbium).

With the publication of this week's Terbium video, I've now used all four of those extra snippets.

Bibledex nears completion

Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: I've devoted most of this week to the Bible!

That's because I'm trying to finish a major video project I've been working on called Bibledex, making videos about every book of the Bible (well, the 66 most Bibles contain).

They aren't religious films, they're just supposed to be an academic yet curious look at what be the world's most famous collection of texts.

I still have four videos to go, but this week I finished all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Here's the last one I edited (which ironically was probably the first one written - Mark).

The thing I found most interesting in this video is that the supposed last words of Jesus ("My God, My God, why have you forsaken me") may have a totally different meaning to what most people think... I love finding out stuff like that!

As someone who does so much work on science films, some people thought it strange I'd tackle a project about the Bible.

But I hope anyone who watches will realise this is not about God or religion... It is about curiosity and sharing knowledge.

I also like to think I ask some challenging questions of the theologians.

Check out the videos at or

Many of them include some great footage we filmed in Israel.

By the way, all this work does not mean I've neglected my science duties... This week's science videos have included videos on Benzene, Terbium and Electrical Conductivity. Check them out too!

Monday, 26 April 2010

What did you eat for breakfast?

When recording interviews, I need to check the audio levels being produced by microphones.

To do this, I usually ask the interviewee a banal question - typically "what did you have for breakfast?"

This has resulted in me (accidentally) collecting a lot of answers to this question, which I recently put together into two compilations.

First, here are the answers given by theologians from the Bibledex project.

And here are the responses from a selection of scientists, mainly from the Test Tube project.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Immortal Worms make a splash

Aziz Aboobaker was one of the first scientists I started following for the Test Tube project back in 2007.

His explanation of "Immortal Worm" research remains the most watched video in Test Tube's short history.

So it was great to see him and a colleague publish a notable paper this week, which has attracted the attention of scientists and mainstream media alike.

Here's the short video I did with Aziz to explain the latest news.

My only disappointment as an outsider is that the gene has such a boring name - Smed-prep.

For the sake of YouTube, I've been trying to convince Aziz to let me give it a better nickname, like "The Immortality Gene" or "Hydra Gene" (because of the head whole re-growth thing).

Aren't I just a typical sensationalist journalist!? But as a typical scientist, Aziz is happiest when it's just called Smed-prep!

Either way, it's still pretty fascinating stuff.

Here is Aziz's appearance on the BBC World Service.

And the paper itself can be found here.

Sixty Symbols Word Clouds

In my last post I looked at comments made on our chemistry videos.

Today I'm doing the same thing, but with physics and astronomy videos from the Sixty Symbols project.

YouTube users have made thousands of comments on the videos, totaling 151,000 words.

Here's a graphic representation of the 50 most common words, made with the Tag Crowd website.

A better graphic showing more words (with some occurrence numbers) can be found on the Sixty Symbols Flickr page.

And here is a Wordle graphic of the most used words in Sixty Symbols comments (using the same data).

Again, a better quality version can be found on Flickr for a closer look.

(Note: I have used comments from the start of the project up to 23 April 2010)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Popular Words on YouTube

I've pulled together all user comments from the Periodic Table of Videos YouTube channel.

It totaled more than 450,000 words.

And with the wonders of modern technology (and a handy website called Tag Crowd) here are the 50 most popular.

A bigger graphic showing the top 100 and the number of occurences can be found on our Flickr page (click on "all sizes" when you get there for a better look).

And here's what ever-popular Worldle spat out... Looks a bit different!

Bigger version found here
(again click "all sizes" for a better look).

Little surprise the most common words included "video" and "element".

But some other interesting inclusions were "hair" thanks to Professor Poliakoff, "awesome" and "thanks".

We're hoping to have some university experts have a closer look for any interesting trends, but the word clouds are just fun to look at.

(Note this was for video and channel comments made on our videos to 21 April, 2010)

Monday, 19 April 2010

Gigayear: 1,000,000,000 years

How do we decide what films to make for the Sixty Symbols project?

Sometimes the answer's right in front of our faces.

This is part of an email exchange between myself and astronomer Chris Conselice, who kindly agreed to help make a video.

CHRIS: Sure (I will help), on what topic?

BRADY: You tell me! You're the astronomer! What do you tell people that makes them go "wow, that's cool!"

CHRIS: The problem is that astronomy doesn't have too many 'symbols' - at least in what I do, which is galaxy evolution/formation. I suppose what interests people the most is the study of the earliest galaxies back to when the universe was less than 1 Gyr old, and how galaxies got to be the way they are today through star formation and merging, etc.

BRADY: What is a Gyr?

CHRIS: Haha, right, already I'm too technical! It is 10^9 years, or a billion years.

BRADY: That's your symbol!!!!! To people like me that is amazing... That you work in a world where you have a shorthand symbol for A BILLION YEARS that you use so casually!

CHRIS: Interesting, yes, that could work.

And here is the video we made.

Plus there is some extra interview footage here.

The inspiration between every video is different, but I thought this was a nice example of a good idea coming from left field (to borrow an Americanism, in honour of Chris's heritage!)

(PS: I looked up the origin of the saying "out of left field" and, as bit of a baseball fan, found it fascinating.)

Can you tell what it is?

Been having fun on our Sixty Symbols Facebook fan page.

Every few days I'm changing the page's profile picture and having fans guess what it is.

Here's what we've had so far!!!!

Has been fun watching people try to guess and figure them out together.

Follow Sixty Symbols on Facebook to take part....

Or even if you don't use Facebook, a link to all the pics we've used can be found here... Clicking on individual pictures will tell you what it is and who guessed it first!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Volcanoes and Jet Engines

We often try to post videos that explain things in the news.

So this is what we posted when the UK's airports were closed down by a huge cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland.

We posted the video within our Sixty Symbols project, because it loosely fits in with a bit of physics (mainly via an engineering angle).

Aircraft safety (and crashes) is bit of fascination of mine, so I enjoyed chatting to to Colin Foord, the jet engine expert featured in the video.

The 1982 incident over Indonesia is something I've watched countless times on Aircrash Investigation (possibly my favourite TV show!)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Eddie's Top Five

One of our biggest fans at the Periodic Table of Videos is a young chap named Eddie.

He lives in Arkansas and is 11 years old.

He famously received at autographed picture of the PTOV team for Christmas - a moment his mother captured on camera!

Well of course we asked Eddie to take part in our collection of top five videos... Here are his picks:


Eddie says: "It's the one that got it all started for me, and I probably wouldn't like the Periodic Table of Videos as much as I do if I hadn't seen that video."


Eddie says: "Caesium is just so awesome. It's the emperor of alkali metals. It is highly reactive and explodes in contact with water."


Eddie says: "Potassium is really cool because of how big the explosion is, and I think the next time you drop a chunk of potassium in the water, you should make it a bigger chunk than in the current video."


Eddie says: "Sodium is cool because it's in your salt. It also is explosive in water."


Eddie says: "I really liked it when the pumpkin started spitting up molten iron."

Honorable mention: SULFUR

Eddie says: "Sulfur is cool because of its unique classification that it's yellow and it stinks and because of the barking dog reaction."

Many thanks to Eddie.... Eddie's mum has also sent us a top five... We'll post that one soon!

Mars, Hydrochloric Acid and Jesus' Brother

Another diverse day and evening slaving away at my computer, editing these three videos.

First, for Sixty Symbols, is this video about Mars.

Some of the photos used in the Mars video can be found on our Flickr page. I love the pictures comparing the face on Mars.

For the Periodic Table of Videos, here's a video about Hydrochloric Acid... Bit of a cliffhanger!

Actually it was a double cliffhanger, with Sam's skull and Debbie's experiment both unresolved.

And just between us (to add to the suspense), part two will also feature a rare appearance in the lab for Professor Poliakoff!

And speaking of the Periodic Table of Videos, here's a great photo I was sent by email!

Finally, here's the latest offering on Bibledex.

It is about the book of Jude - supposedly written by one of Jesus's brothers - which raises questions about the Virgin Mary!?

But my favourite bit of the video is the discussion of song lyrics - seems like they just stole the line?

After all that I think I'll go and have a nap on the sofa!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Rosie's Selection

Another five favourite elements list, this time from Periodic Table of Videos viewer Rosie Mitchell.

Love her little stories to go with each one... She sounds like she'd be a great PTOV presenter, doesn't she?


Rosie says: "I have a personal stake here. If my father's forebears hadn't moved up from Cornwall in the mid nineteenth-century to work the iron mines, and mingled with my mother's forebears down from Scotland for the same reason, I wouldn't exist. And that's without the whole existential arguments around the chemical and physical properties of iron being fundamental to the nature of the universe. And that it does all that funky magnetism stuff. And that Earth itself is just a big iron cannonball with some interesting deposits in a thin layer ion the surface. A real superstar amongst elements."


Rosie says: "Because scandium is the final proof, if proof were needed, that all elements are interesting. Suppose that there is such a thing in the periodic table as a boring element. Then there is a lightest boring element, and that makes it interesting. When I first encountered the periodic table at school I thought boron must be boring because it sounds like boring and we never did anything with it in the lab. So it was interesting to me and when we were invited to synthesise an element of our choice in the A-level lab I synthesised boron just for the hell of it. But as Debbie says, boron chemistry is far from boring so it's not sufficient proof. So, run the gamut of elemen scandium... Huh? Scandium really is dull, and so it's the first dull element. If I were a chemist, which I ain't, I'd do my PhD thesis on the chemistry of scandium."


Rosie says: "I've heard it said - and this may be an urban myth - that a key piece of evidence against (murderer) Graham Young who put thallium salts in his colleagues' tea emerged when one of the investigating officers recognised the symptoms of thallium poisoning from an Agatha Christie novel he'd recently been reading. One up for the humanities then."


Rosie says: "Today's children are victims of common sense. Nothing would ever be achieved if, as the more populist pundits would have us believe, we relied on common sense. Madame Curie would no doubt have lived a long life if she hadn't played fast and loose with radium salts (allegedly her papers are considered too dangerous to handle) but she'd never have won two Nobel prizes. Children deprived of experiencing mercury in the school lab not only miss out on some of the funky tricks that can be done with this fascinating element (like the mercury motor) they miss out on pushing beads of spilt mercury around the bench. Mercury should be treated with great respect but there are many bead-pushers who have survived into old age."


Rosie says: "The Frankenstein's Monster of the periodic table. Nobody with any curiosity can resist a gap so it was inevitable that scientists would try to fill those in the periodic table. Promethium turned out to be very nasty indeed, in contrast to the comparatively benevolent weak beta-emitter technetium. When it decays it fires off X-rays for heaven's sake! It's not even particularly useful. So, promethium is fascinating for its sheer malevolence."

Previous top five contributions have come from Ryan, Nurdrage, Sarah, Alex and I've also done a "five most viewed" list.

If you'd like to make a contribution, get in touch.

Ryan's Favourite Elements

Here's another Periodic Table of Videos top five selection.

This list comes from Ryan, known on YouTube as KyuubiNaruto1337XD.

Unlike some of other contributors, his selections are based on elements he likes rather than the videos themselves. But I quite like that!

Here's his list, which he puts in reverse order.


Ryan says: "The only element with 18 valance electrons, picked for originality."


Ryan says: "My favorite element because it is the last of the 92 naturally occurring elements, everything after that is synthetic, made in a laboratory or in a nuclear reactor. Although we know little about it, it was used in some of history's largest projects such as the Manhattan project where I believe Plutonium was created while enriching Uranium for the building of an Atomic bomb that was used on Japan in WWII"


Ryan says: "A very strange Element in my opinion, it takes the place and 'acts' like a metal where it appears in many solutions like Hydrochloric Acid, with only a single proton it is the lightest element in the universe. It's Isotopes have been used in Nuclear Reactors and Advanced Combat Optical Gun sights (ACOG scopes). Deuterium is used in Nuclear reactors, and Tritium is used in these ACOG scopes for weaponry and rifles."


Ryan says: "It is element number 100 and named after Enrico Fermi, because he was an Italian physicist, particularly remembered for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics."


Ryan says: "Picked because it is the last element to complete the p-block, and was discovered recently on April 5th, 2010, the next element to create is Ununennium (119) which will start the theoretical g-block."

Previous top five contributions have come from Nurdrage, Sarah, Alex and I've also done a "five most viewed" list.

If you'd like to make a contribution, get in touch.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

A New Element

The discovery of a new element is the biggest news story we can get on The Periodic Table of Videos.

So I was pretty keen to make a video when it was announced that element 117 had been created by scientists in Russia.

Unluckily it happened with most of the team away on work or taking an Easter break... Thankfully Dr Pete Licence was still working and gave me a few minutes of his time.

Earlier this year we filmed at another facility which creates these synthetic elements - GSI in Darmstadt, Germany.

Some of our footage from that trip came in handy for this video.

It is also fun to listen to what Professor Poliakoff said in our original Ununseptium video - almost building up to the big discovery?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Dark Matter and the Gospel of Luke

Two videos today at opposite ends of the spectrum. First this one on Dark Matter for Sixty Symbols.

Had so much extra footage I even created an extra video of unused material!

And then on a totally unrelated matter, put together my Bibledex video for the Gospel of Luke.

Some interesting stuff and always good to use footage from our road trip to Israel.

Plenty of variety today, don't you think?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Most watched videos

Lately I've been posting a few people's "top five" videos from the Periodic Table of Videos.

Today I'm posting the five videos which have been watched the most times (as of 6 April 2010) with a bit of background on each.

1. CHOCOLATE AND ROSES (362,446 views)

We made this video for Valentine's Day in 2009 and YouTube featured it on the front page, always guaranteeing a high view count! A year we later uploaded a higher definition version with a couple of minor tweaks and extra shots.

2. CANDLES AT HALLOWEEN (360,575 views)

Another seasonal video which performed very well. Less exciting than our highly explosive 2010 Halloween video, but sometimes the simple things in life are the best.

3. URANIUM (261,257 views)

An element everyone is curious about, I guess. Again it was helped by some great exposure on the main YouTube pages.

4. SODIUM (236,302 views)

One of the first videos we ever made and many bloggers have embedded this video, which has helped boost its view count.

5. TEA CHEMISTRY (167,609 views)

Another simple video, but again one that caught the attention of people on YouTube.


No single Hydrogen video makes the top five, but our two main hydrogen videos (we replaced the original about a year into the project) have 150,773 and 119,876 views each. The first video also has an inaccurate view count because of a YouTube glitch I won't bother explaining... It is probably about 30,000-50,000 less than it should be. Hydrogen does well because it is usually the first video people click on when they visit the periodic table on our main web page.

No video I've made for Sixty Symbols has bettered these films, but Black Holes has 101,971 views and Drinking Bird has 98,638 views.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Cem Chem

Cem - I think that's Portuguese for 100?

Today we had our 100th video in the Periodic Table of Videos translated into Portuguese.

The translations are being done by our Brazilian friend Professor Luis Brudna, who I've never met!

His Portuguese translations appear as captions on the videos. All 100 videos with the Portuguese translations can be found at this link.

Or you can watch them in this specially embedded player, in which they appear back-to-back.

Luis' captions are activated by using the small triangular icon at the bottom right of the player! You can move between videos using the arrows at the left and right side of the player.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Sherwood Forest Interviews

The Sherwood Forest Interviews is a small series I'm doing about energy research at the University of Nottingham.

The latest installment (the fourth so far) is an interview with Ian Dwyer.

(Love the end of this video, when the passers-by stop and watch!)

So why film the interviews in Sherwood Forest?

There are a few reasons....

1. We want to make the link with Nottingham, where the research is being done. Sherwood Forest does this nicely, because it's the setting for much of Robin Hood's famed rivalry with the Sheriff of Nottingham.

2. Showing the researchers in a lovely forest setting helps reinforce that the work has an environmental component.

3. It's a bit prettier being out in the forest rather than an office or lab (or in front of a blue screen) where these sorts of interviews are typically filmed!

Who knows, with a big Robin Hood film due for release soon, a few extra people may even stumble over the videos.

I'm posting them to YouTube on the nottinghamscience channel where they have a dedicated playlist.

There's also a Sherwood Forest Interviews page on Test Tube.

The main site for the University of Nottingham's energy research can be found here.

The Professor's Hair

Since launching The Periodic Table of Videos on YouTube, I've received more than 1,000 comments about Martyn Poliakoff's hair style!

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss the famous hair style (and share some of the YouTube comments).

"The hair is the thing that pulls you in. Then you can't look away."

"The hair is actually an extension of his brain. The slightest contact with a comb or pair of scissors would mean certain death."

"Sir your hair is amazing"

Firstly, I'll point out an unexpected way in which these comments are useful.

Every time someone posts ANY comment on a YouTube video, the comment's also emailed to me. I must have received 40,000 to 50,000 such emails covering countless topics.

"His hair oozes gangsterness."

"Good video, agreed the white haired dude is now hero of the universe."

However when the emails start mentioning Martyn's hair, it's a tell-tale sign a video has been featured on YouTube's front page.... That's because it means we're reaching new viewers - people are seeing our videos (and Martyn) for the first time.

So sure enough, the first way I usually learn YouTube are giving us extra exposure is because of references to hair.

"At first sight, I couldn't believe a tenured professor would be so tacky as to wear his hair like that; but after having seen several videos, I couldn't imagine him otherwise. Often times, myself included, brilliant people certainly are statistical outliers."

"He's a genius. His hair is Pimp"

"These videos here give me hope that YouTube isnt full of sh-t now ...and because I love the white afro guy."

So what does Martyn (known to most YouTubers simply as "The Professor") think about this?

Well he's used to it, and I don't think he pays much attention. However he realises it's a talking point, and has commented in some of our videos.

"I think his hair is great and for those mocking it, go find a picture of Einstein's hair."

"You must utilise the power of your spectacular hairstyle and bring peace to the world!"

People also send us look-alike photos. In this video Martyn was a great sport and let us take the mickey!

All the reactions are genuine and no-one was shown the picture beforehand.

And here's a picture from Martyn's wedding day, revealing his hair has always looked like that!!!

And finally, more comments from viewers on YouTube:

"I knew it, even when he was a youngster he had that crazy fro hair."

"Love the hair. I wonder what shampoo he uses?"

"Why do so many highly intelligent people have such bizzare hair?"

"1.21 GIGAWATTS! *combs hair with hands for one second* *whisper* 1.21 gigawatts"

"Prof Poliakoff's fluctuating hair volume is also a great point of interest, but my pupils all think it's simply a sign of his genius!"

"I think we have finally found who is the father of Chuck Norris, it has to be the guy with white hair, only he can be amazing enough to have a son like that."

"Good video, agreed the white haired dude is now hero of the universe."

"The Prof has had his hair cut. Can we order pillow/duvet sets stuffed with his hair?"

"Why in the world do these people have no idea about barbers? Are they all trying to look like Einstein? Don't they know that looking like Einstein doesn't make you as smart as Einstein."

"His hair isn't anything like Einstein's... Its just the same color.."

"I'm not sure what's cooler, his tie or his white afro :)"

"The camera loves Professor Poliakoff and his wonderful hair!!!"

"I subbed for the hair alone ;-)"

"Element 112 - it's this guys hair product."

"Instead of going to a stylist, he dunks his head into an iron formula and sits in an MRI machine every month or two."

"This dude's hair is bitchin!"

"The hair adds credibility to his scientific statements......hes a genius....look at the hair!"

"The hair are like little radio recievers. It absorbs information from the surroundings."

"Looks like an old, white afro ninja!"

"His hair serves two purposes, the first is to hide the fact that he has an enormous brain, the second is to shield that enormous brain from high energy waves and particles. Its more like a hat than hair."

"I think the key to anti gravity technology lies within this guys hair."

"He should not change a single hair on his head. He way too cool. I predict he is going to be very popular GLOBALLY."

"That hair gets more spectacular with each video. It will eventually fill the university, I'm sure of it."

"Can we use the red doppler shift to calculate the expansion of his hair?"

"Great hair out for the bunsen burner....could be quite spectacular!!!"

"Man has always wondered what the purpose of life is.... His hair is the purpose of life."

Friday, 2 April 2010

Why Study Medieval Literature?

Here's another video in our series "What's The Point?"

In the series academics across various arts and humanities subjects discuss their work - and try to explain why it's a worthwhile field of study.

This video features Professor Thorlac Turville-Petre. He studies medieval literature and doesn't like the phrase "Middle Ages" being used as an insult.

Have to admit I find the old manuscripts quite intriguing.

More videos in this series can be found at

Cadbury Creme Eggs

This video was a last-minute decision, and I'm surprised how well it turned out.

For our "Easter Special" on the Periodic Table of Videos, I suggested we do some experiments on Cadbury Creme Eggs.

I had visions of a series of tests on the eggs' physical properties.... boiling points, density, strength, etc.

Sam Tang and Neil Barnes came up with a better idea, putting eggs into a vacuum (the equivalent of outer space) with fascinating results.

Pete Licence then popped in and dropped an egg into potassium chlorate, again with spectacular results. He had no idea what would happen, and you can see the reaction didn't kick off until he prodded the egg and released the sugar-filled centre!

I then asked Darren Walsh - who was lurking about to watch the action - if he'd pop an egg into liquid nitrogen and smash it (a chance to use the new slow motion camera, of course!)

Love Darren's reaction to the smashed egg!

It was the a mad rush home to have it all edited in time for the Easter audience.

The running joke about Neil being left with a mess to clean was not planned... It just worked out that way.

Neil's always bit of mysterious figure in our chemistry videos but absolutely crucial to making many of them. His role in this film has been attracted plenty of comments on the YouTube video.