“Although they enjoy explosions and things like that,
we get nearly as good a response from the audience in videos that show nothing but me sitting in my office.”
As pointed out in the report Learning Science in Informal Environments,1 informal or everyday science education “is the constellation of everyday activities and routines through which people often learn things related to science.” Watching short videos on the web, watching movies in a theatre or on television, or listening to radio or audio podcasts, all present venues for everyday science learning. In these venues, the author and audience do not have an explicit agenda to engage in science education; rather, this happens by way of a desire to entertain or be entertained. In this session, workshop participants heard about three examples of informal science learning, which included an introduction of significant chemistry content in video on the web, on traditional and Internet-based radio, and in cinematic movies. Martyn Poliakoff from the University of Nottingham described how he and his team created the very successful Periodic Table of Videos on the Internet. Jorge Salazar of EarthSky Communications described his organization’s efforts to provide a commercial-free way for scientists to communicate. Mark Griep from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln discussed his analysis of chemistry content in films.
The first speaker of the day, via webcast, was Martyn Poliakoff, who presented from his office with his video journalist collaborator on Periodic Videos,2 Brady Haran. Haran was also videoing Poliakoff during the presentation, which was later posted on the Periodic Videos YouTube channel.3
Poliakoff explained that his research interests are mainly in green chemistry—cleaner approaches for making chemicals and materials, particularly cleaner solvents. He has carried out a lot of research in the area of supercritical fluids, highly compressed carbon dioxide, which can be used as solvents for chemical reactions. Because green chemistry has direct impacts for the public, Poliakoff and his research group have long engaged in public outreach. Dr. Sam Tang is a public awareness scientist, whose job it is to help Poliakoff and his colleagues present science to the public. For example, he showed Tang in the Victoria Shopping Centre in the center of Nottingham demonstrating supercritical fluids just before Christmas. A video of Poliakoff demonstrating supercritical fluids on YouTube was recorded by Brady Haran (Figure 6-1) on his YouTube channel called “TestTube.” It had been watched by nearly 50,000 people at the time of this workshop.
As a result of the success of that video (Haran and Poliakoff received an award for the website), Haran got the idea of making a periodic table of videos—a website where every element would have its own video. “I told him he was completely mad,” Poliakoff said, but after some discussion Haran persuaded him it would be a good idea, and they were able to raise the funds to make the videos.
Poliakoff demonstrated how to navigate the website and YouTube channels. They began filming on June 9, 2008, and recorded the first 36 elements (at least his part of them) in 2 hours in his office. The website was completed on July 17, in slightly less than 6 weeks, because money was limited and had to be spent before the end of July. They made 120 videos,
1National Research Council. 2009. Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
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6 Chemistry in Video, in Movies, and on the Radio “Although they enjoy explosions and things like that, we get nearly as good a response from the audience in videos that show nothing but me sitting in my office.” –Martyn Poliakoff which was later posted on the Periodic Videos YouTube As pointed out in the report Learning Science in Informal channel.3 Environments,1 informal or everyday science education “is Poliakoff explained that his research interests are mainly the constellation of everyday activities and routines through in green chemistry—cleaner approaches for making chemi- which people often learn things related to science.” Watching cals and materials, particularly cleaner solvents. He has car- short videos on the web, watching movies in a theatre or on ried out a lot of research in the area of supercritical fluids, television, or listening to radio or audio podcasts, all pres- highly compressed carbon dioxide, which can be used as ent venues for everyday science learning. In these venues, solvents for chemical reactions. Because green chemistry the author and audience do not have an explicit agenda to has direct impacts for the public, Poliakoff and his research engage in science education; rather, this happens by way of group have long engaged in public outreach. Dr. Sam Tang a desire to entertain or be entertained. In this session, work- is a public awareness scientist, whose job it is to help Polia- shop participants heard about three examples of informal koff and his colleagues present science to the public. For science learning, which included an introduction of signifi- example, he showed Tang in the Victoria Shopping Centre in cant chemistry content in video on the web, on traditional and Internet-based radio, and in cinematic movies. Martyn the center of Nottingham demonstrating supercritical fluids Poliakoff from the University of Nottingham described how just before Christmas. A video of Poliakoff demonstrating supercritical fluids on YouTube was recorded by Brady Haran he and his team created the very successful Periodic Table of Videos on the Internet. Jorge Salazar of EarthSky Com- (Figure 6-1) on his YouTube channel called “TestTube.” It had been watched by nearly 50,000 people at the time of munications described his organization’s efforts to provide a commercial-free way for scientists to communicate. Mark this workshop. Griep from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln discussed As a result of the success of that video (Haran and Poliakoff received an award for the website), Haran got the his analysis of chemistry content in films. idea of making a periodic table of videos—a website where every element would have its own video. “I told him he was THE PERIODIC TABLE OF VIDEOS completely mad,” Poliakoff said, but after some discussion Haran persuaded him it would be a good idea, and they were The first speaker of the day, via webcast, was Martyn able to raise the funds to make the videos. Poliakoff, who presented from his office with his video journalist collaborator on Periodic Videos, 2 Brady Haran. Poliakoff demonstrated how to navigate the website and YouTube channels. They began filming on June 9, 2008, and Haran was also videoing Poliakoff during the presentation, recorded the first 36 elements (at least his part of them) in 2 hours in his office. The website was completed on July 17, 1 National Research Council. 2009. L earning Science in Informal in slightly less than 6 weeks, because money was limited and Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. Washington, DC: National had to be spent before the end of July. They made 120 videos, Academies Press. 2For more information, see www.periodicvideos.com/. Also, see S. Rittter. 2008. Elements Achieve Internet Stardom. Chemical and Engineering News 3www.youtube.com/periodicvideos#p/u/42/6yT8kvHlgeg. 86(37):42-43. 47
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48 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE greater than a million hits worldwide.” The importance of this is that, in general, chemistry outreach is being appreci- ated more and more—“much more than people understand, than the researchers understand.” Poliakoff explained more about the features of the period- icvideos website; how people can view and watch videos on the periodicvideos website, and they can also look at them on YouTube. One of the added values of YouTube is the ability to track the number of views and numbers of subscribers. About an hour before his workshop presentation, Poliakoff found that the periodicvideos YouTube channel had 25,307 subscribers. To put that number in context, he compared it to the video channel for the Kelsey Football (soccer) Club, which he said is one of the leading clubs in the United King- dom. He noted that the soccer club had about 4,000 fewer subscribers than periodicvideos. He said, “Chemistry, at least FIGURE 6-1 Martin Poliakoff being recorded for PeriodicVideos in this context, is considerably more popular than soccer.” by collaborator Brady Haran. In addition to the videos about the elements, the group SOURCE: Martyn Poliakoff, University of Nottingham. ©All rights has done special features—for example, on the medals of reserved by Periodic Videos. the Olympic games. “When the large Hadron Collider leaked helium and closed down we made the video to explain why,” Poliakoff said. For the Nobel Prize in 2008, they had nearly 40,000 hits in one week, describing what the prize was about, which was more than the official Nobel Prize video got for including 118 elements, a trailer, and an introductory video, that week. One of the most popular videos they made was with a total running time of 4 hours, 7 minutes. called “Candles at Halloween.” Before they were finished producing the videos, they had Poliakoff discussed how they also put subtitles on video. more than a half-million hits and a lot of publicity. At the In addition to ones in English and Spanish, he said they have time of this workshop, they had had at least 11 million hits, more than a hundred videos subtitled in Portuguese, some but the number is not totally accurate, because it doesn’t in Turkish, and now even in Indonesian. Once a YouTube account for instances where a class of schoolchildren have video is subtitled, it can be translated to other languages all watched at once. automatically with reasonable satisfaction. He said they are They can also track the many countries in which the now trying to subtitle all of their videos. videos were being viewed, and many viewers provide com - Poliakoff’s team has also made an effort to go on the ments. For example, one said, “I love your videos and from road and visit famous laboratories. For example, one trip watching these videos I have learned more than [in] a full was to Darmstadt, where element 111 was discovered. They term of college,” and another, “Videos like these [are] what also make trips to schools and conferences, and they have makes me interested in school and better improving myself. even collaborated with the Broadway Cinema, which is the Thank you.” Haran actually downloaded all the comments leading private independent cinema in Nottingham. They for all the videos about 2 weeks before Poliakoff’s pre - once did a live performance at the cinema. He showed a sentation and analyzed the words. The top 100 words in picture of Sam Tang demonstrating dry ice on the stage at frequency they found included chemistry, element, and the Broadway Cinema. Because of the success of that event, love, “which is quite encouraging,” Poliakoff said. Other they have plans to do a similar performance at other venues. words he mentioned were awesome, cool, and interesting, They also have been involved in exhibitions, where viewing which he said “are not words that are normally associated stations have been set up at a science expo or museum and with chemistry.” people can watch the periodic videos online. Polikoff sug- Poliakoff showed some of the early press coverage of gested that perhaps in the future the videos could be available the website, as well as a mention of the project in an inter- for in-flight entertainment on airplanes. national review of UK chemistry research (by the EPSRC Poliakoff highlighted the periodic videos team (Figure [Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council], the 6-2), and ended by saying “these videos are unique. As far as UK equivalent of the National Science Foundation [NSF]). we know there is nothing else like it. There is obviously good The review said, “Particularly impressive was the presenta- publicity for Nottingham [but] . . . I think the most important tion describing online outreach, including a YouTube video thing of all is they make chemistry fun.” on the periodic table of elements that has already received
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49 CHEMISTRY IN VIDEO, IN MOVIES, AND ON THE RADIO EarthSky as well as contributing scientists. Figure 6-3 shows a screen shot of the www.earthsky.org website. Salazar described the effort EarthSky makes to build net- works and figure out new ways to get the voices of scientists out to the public. They have one partnership with Google, in which they have a dedicated layer on the Google Sky.4 The layer includes EarthSky audio podcasts. EarthSky links the interviews with astronomers, and the stellar object they discuss, with the coordinates for the object in Google Sky. They also want to expand to work with the Google Earth application. Other EarthSky partners that Salazar mentioned include the National Science Foundation, National Aeronau- tics and Space Administration, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. FIGURE 6-2 Martyn Poliakoff and the Periodic Table of Videos In the United States, many Spanish stations carry “Cielo team. SOURCE: Martyn Poliakoff, University of Nottingham. ©All rights y Tierra.” There are also satellite networks that broadcast reserved by Periodic Videos. EarthSky, such as the Voice of America and American Voices Radio. The EarthSky distribution network now includes about 2,000 affiliates worldwide, after basically starting from nothing. Salazar said, “I have been thinking about a lot of EARTHSKY: A CLEAR VOICE FOR SCIENCE— the ideas that have been presented at this workshop, and as CHEMISTRY ON THE RADIO DIAL AND ONLINE Dr. Poliakoff has demonstrated, there is a lot of opportunity right now if you get in early before things get too structured.” Jorge Salazar talked about the role that media can play “The challenge that media face is a public that really in helping get the word out from scientists, and chemists doesn’t quite get what science is about,” Salazar said. For especially, to a broader audience. Salazar explained that example, more than 100 million Americans believe that EarthSky is a Science Media Company, which started off astrology is a “sort of science,”5 and 46 million Americans as a radio program founded by Deborah Byrd in 1991. believe that the ocean is a source of fresh water.6 The other Byrd is also the founder of the radio program StarDate, an challenge is that the media landscape is pretty noisy. It is astronomy program, which she started in 1978. After run- difficult to make a connection with people, because there ning 5,000 episodes of StarDate, Byrd decided to branch off are so many different organizations and companies vying for from astronomy. the public’s attention. At the same time, there are studies that The basic idea of what EarthSky does is to interview show the public trusts scientists. Salazar mentioned a study scientists and let them describe their research in their own which found that 85 percent of people surveyed think that words. The program is listened to in all different formats, scientific research is important.7 He said it makes sense that on commercial and public radio. Salazar explained, “People scientists are looked to for guidance on difficult, complicated who might catch a clip of our EarthSky are not necessarily issues such as global warming and stem cell research.8 listening for science, are not necessarily wanting to listen to Salazar talked about one of the series that EarthSky some science, it will just kind of sneak up on them and before did, with funding from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus they know it they will have heard a little bit of EarthSky.” Foundation, focused on scientists’ green chemistry and EarthSky was awarded the first ever award from the National sustainability. The American Chemical Society helped find Science Board for talking about research and making it rel- the right people to interview. Four researchers were asked evant to people’s everyday lives. to talk about their work, which resulted in approximately EarthSky creates what it calls “impressions,” which refers 58,000,000 radio and Internet impressions of the scientists to every encounter someone has with the program, “basically talking about green chemistry. every time you hear or you see or you access” through the radio or Internet. Each month, EarthSky produces about 80 new podcasts. In addition, it produces both 90-second and 4For more information, see www.google.com/sky/ (accessed April 27, 60-second radio spots to meet the needs of different radio 2011). stations. It also just started producing pieces in Spanish 5National Science Foundation, 2006. Public Attitudes Survey. called “Cielo y Tierra.” Overall, EarthSky has produced close 6National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, 2005. to 7,000 broadcasts, and they are all available at EarthSky. Environmental Literacy in America. 7Virginia Commonwealth University. Center for Public Policy Survey, org. In addition to interviews (all podcasts are archived), 2001, 2006. EarthSky has a blogging section, which includes posts from 8University of Chicago, 2006. National Opinion Research Center, General Social Survey,
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50 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE FIGURE 6-3 Screen shot of EarthSky.org. SOURCE: Jorge Salazar, EarthSky. Looking to the future, social media are where a lot of Salazar described the EarthSky audience. Many listeners focus will be for EarthSky. This includes ways to be able to are from Voice of America around the world, including many get information through mobile devices, such as iPads and listeners in China. One-third of them are via U.S. satellite, iPhones. Salazar said, “Our goal is to reach more people. and the terrestrial stations, but a large chunk of its audience . . . We are looking at this new media, social media, and is international. we are jumping headfirst.” The reasons for doing this are Another example of a chemistry-related series EarthSky pretty obvious, given the growth and reach of Facebook and produced with Oregon Public Broadcasting is called the other media platforms, such as YouTube and Twitter. More Power of Small, which looked at the promise and pitfalls of importantly, he said, is “the people who use this media a nanotechnology. EarthSky interviewed scientists who were lot tend to be well-educated and what media people call on this televised program and developed these small radio ‘influencers,’ people who influence a lot of other people. clips as well as extended interviews where people could lis- So when you can get to these people, your message can ten to some of the issues that were being discussed in a little really spread quickly.” more depth. Salazar explained how EarthSky is constantly looking for a relevancy factor. “I think it is really important when chemists want to tell their story to be able to connect Questions and Answers it to something that people are really interested in.” Steve Lyons asked Salazar to estimate how many sci- “Radio is still relevant,” Salazar explained. Media are entists interviewed by EarthSky are chemists, compared to constantly changing, but a lot of people still listen to the other sciences. Salazar said he didn’t have that count, but radio. For example, in one week EarthSky generates about chemistry is probably a pretty small chunk of what EarthSky 32 million impressions, which is more people than watch has done. American Idol. “This is not to say that one is necessarily Pat Thiel, Iowa State University, asked about coverage better than the other, but that there are different ways to do of basic versus applied research, with basic research being it, and EarthSky can reach a lot of people with the messages where the practical application is not always immediately that scientists want to give,” Salazar added.
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51 CHEMISTRY IN VIDEO, IN MOVIES, AND ON THE RADIO obvious. She noted that some of the examples Salazar to put on a boat to win a race, which will win over his love showed seemed to feature mostly applied research. She interest and his father’s respect. “Now, this is chemistry at wondered if basic research would be “left in the dust” when its finest,” Griep said. it comes to communicating with new media. At some point earlier in the movie Elvis says the varnish Salazar replied that they don’t neglect basic research is called “GOOP, the real name is a foot long.” Elvis sings advances in science, but that one of the challenges they a song at one point, surrounded by beautiful women, and face is looking for relevance. He said, “You need that, within the song he names the molecule, “glycol oxonic otherwise people stop listening.” He mentioned one clip in phosphate is the latest scoop, but that’s all right, girls, you a series of programs they did at Cornell University, called can call it GOOP.” “Chronicles of a Science Experiment.” Over the course of a Griep said that caught his attention. He stopped and year and a half, EarthSky followed a postdoctorate chemist, rewound the movie to listen to the word again and then tried Aaron Strickland, in 8-minute podcasts based on 45-minute to draw the molecule—but could not do it. The thought of interviews. He said the point of the podcast wasn’t to talk the chemical name haunted him for months. One day, he had about any discovery or to talk about how this new thing that the idea that maybe “glycol oxonic phosphate” is a special chemists are doing is relevant to people.” The aim was to try inside word that they use in the varnish industry. He did some to show scientists as real people struggling with these really research on varnishes and found out that one of the oldest fascinating problems over a long period of time. “It was kind varnishes is linseed oil, which is rich in linoleic triglyceride. of a human story, but it was challenging, being able to present He said the way that linseed oil works is you paint it on and basic research like that,” he added. then, slowly, oxygen from the atmosphere reacts with the double bonds to cross-link the molecules together, resulting in a hard surface. “Okay, great, I learned a little bit about CHEMISTRY IN THE MOVIES varnishes because of Elvis,” he said. They then watched the Mark Griep discussed how he, in collaboration with his movie again to see if there might be another character in wife Marjorie Mikasen, wrote the book called ReAction! this movie or maybe a prop that would provide more clues. Chemistry in the Movies published by Oxford University Eventually, Griep and Mikasen came across other clues that Press in 2009. The research was funded by the Alfred P. allowed Griep to come up with the structure of an omega-3 Sloan Foundation. Griep explained, “We like movies, we fatty acid type epoxy, when combined together could make watch a lot of movies.” They took a list of more than 1,000 GOOP (Figure 6-4). movies, watched about 400 of them, and then chose 110 That experience, watching and analyzing the chemistry movies to examine in detail for the chemical, psychological, in Clambake, led Griep and Mikasen to start watching more historical, and social context. Griep also considered how a movies where they thought they might find chemistry. Griep chemistry instructor might use Hollywood feature films in said, “By the time we had 30 movies on our list, I thought the classroom to teach chemistry. okay we are going to collect 60 total movies, that is all there is going to be in the whole world, and I am going to write this paper for the Journal of Chemical Education, and I would be “It’s Called GOOP. The Real Name Is a Foot Long” done. Well, 1,500 movies are now on my list.” The basis of the approach Griep took is that movies are mediators of public understanding of everything, not just sci- ence. Filmmakers create movies for different reasons, with the ultimate goal of creating something that people want to see. They might want to tell a particular story or just want to make a lot of money. He explained that movies are great at placing any theme within a social context, because movies are mostly about people. Movies show how society views and understands chemistry, because filmmakers are going to choose stereotypes that are going to be useful for driving the story forward. The movie that got Griep and Mikasen started on their project was watching an Elvis Presley film from 1967, called Clambake. Griep described it as a generic Elvis movie, except in this case Elvis happened to be a chemist. In the movie, Elvis states, “I am an engineer,” which Griep explained means he is a chemical engineer because there are FIGURE 6-4 Comparison of real chemicals with the fictional a lot of bubbling apparatuses in back of him. Elvis tries to “GOOP” molecule in the Elvis Presley movie Clambake. develop a superhard, superfast drying varnish that he plans SOURCE: Mark Griep, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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52 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE TABLE 6-1 Themes and Genres of the Movies Discussed in Griep’s and Mikasen’s Book ReAction! Chemistry in the Movies Book Chapter Chemical Theme Movie Genre Signatures Dark Side 1 Jekyll and Hyde 9 horror, 5 sci-fi, 4 drama 2 Invisible man 6 sci-fi, 5 horror, 4 [black] comedy, 4 thriller 3 Chemical weapons & terrorism 8 thriller, 6 drama 4 Bad companies 8 drama, 4 thriller 5 Addiction & psychoactives 8 drama TOTAL: 26 drama, 16 thriller, 14 horror Bright Side 6 Inventors 8 comedy 7 Forensics 7 drama, 7 mystery, 7 thriller, 5 action, 5 crime 8 Chemistry classroom 7 comedy, 4 sci-fi, 4 romance 9 Good researchers 5 drama, 4 comedy 10 Drug discovery 8 drama, 8 sci-fi, 6 horror, 6 comedy TOTAL: 25 comedy, 18 drama, variety SOURCE: Mark Griep, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Chemistry in Movies Griep explained that when chemists appear in movies, they tend to have a white lab coat, they work obsessively, and “So what qualifies as chemistry in the movies?” asked they typically have colored solutions bubbling in the appara- Griep. He said that they set the bar low; there may be a tus behind them. When chemists are portrayed on the bright character identified as a chemist or sometimes a chemical side, they tend to be professors, inventors, criminologists, or engineer. A character might mention an element, isotope, researchers. Professors will be involved in explosions as a compound, or anything simple. “But you need rules for result of synthesizing a product that solves a personal prob - exclusion,” Griep said “because some things are so ubiqui- lem. Inventor characters often want to create a commercially tous,” such as gold, diamonds, and water. However, he said viable oxymoronic product, such as a nonsticking glue or that sometimes gold is interesting. For example, Iron Man elastic glass. Criminologists use chemistry to eliminate pos- is a gold-titanium alloy. sibilities; however, Griep said, they don’t solve the problem. To select what to include in the book, Griep and Mikasen “How do you solve murder mysteries in movies? Intuition, it made a list of movies they watched that might be interest- is always intuition, it has nothing to do with chemistry.” The ing and then considered the criteria, “Is it recent? Is there ultimate glorifying version of chemistry in the movies, he enough chemistry to talk about? Is it a pretty good movie? said, is “the researcher who is working on something good to Are there other elements in this movie?” Using these crite- solve society’s problems. And I think everyone in this room ria, they whittled the list down to about 70 movies and then would be happy if all chemistry in the movies had this image grouped them according to some main themes represented of chemists’ solving problems.” in the movies. Griep explained that there is a great deal of chemistry in Griep and Mikasen grouped the movies they watched the movies. For example, in the 1992 film Medicine Man, a into a dark side and a bright side and according to chemical botanist goes to South America for a couple of years to work theme, as shown in Table 6-1. Roughly, about 50 percent of for a pharmaceutical company and look for anticarcinogens. the time chemists and chemistry are presented in a positive He is then joined by a biochemist named Dr. Rae Crane, who way, and 50 percent of the time they are presented in a nega- fires up her gas chromatography (GC) mass spectrometer tive way. He said this essentially breaks down according to to analyze samples in the middle of the South American genres; the chemistry in horror, sci-fi, and drama tends to be jungle. Somehow they are able to determine that one of negative, while the chemistry in comedy tends to be positive. the compounds (“Peak 37”) in their mixture has anticancer After conducting their research on movies, Griep and activity. They show the wonderful chemical structure of the Mikasen were surprised to find three things: compound (Figure 6-5), a fictional molecule, that Griep said is chemically correct—that is, no rules of chemistry are 1. There are many chemists and a great deal of chemistry broken, such as a carbon with five bonds. in the movies. The second major surprise for Griep and Mikasen was 2. Fictional chemicals in the movies are based on real that the fictional chemicals are for the most part based on chemicals. real chemicals. For example, the 1961 version of the movie 3. There are many women chemists in the movies.
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53 CHEMISTRY IN VIDEO, IN MOVIES, AND ON THE RADIO Absentminded Professor introduced “flubber.” The main character (played by Fred McMurray) sees the equation H = E – P on his blackboard, but it should be H = E + P. So the professor adjusts the dials on the machine he has for it to be plus, not minus, and it explodes and he makes rubber that flies. Griep looked for clues in this movie and noticed a notebook where the professor wrote the structure of butadi- ene (rubber). He said, “So ‘flubber’ is flying rubber, based on real rubber. This is 1961 and World War II, a lot of synthetic rubbers, this is fantastic stuff.” The third surprise was that there are many women chem- ists in the movies. Figure 6-6 shows the number of movies they found featuring a woman as a chemist versus time and the percentage of physical sciences doctorates earned by women in the United States. Griep said, “You can see that in 1920 the first woman chemist made her appearance, and FIGURE 6-6 Women chemists in the movies. Number of movies then from 1930 to about 1965 there were quite a few; it featuring a woman as a chemist versus percentage of physical sci- dropped down to very low numbers and then [they] made ences Ph.D.s earned by women in the United States. their appearance again in 1995, and they are going up. And SOURCE: Mark Griep, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. it is continuing to go up, with actually a very good increase in women chemists in the movies.” “But this does not reflect at all the percentage of women in Griep listed the names of some of the movies featuring the physical sciences who are receiving Ph.D.s in chemistry,” women chemists: The Blooming Angel (1920), Beauty for the Griep said. The number of women earning Ph.D.s was low Asking (1939), Wink of an Eye (1958), and Caprice (1966). during the period when there were many women chemists in However, he said, “if you go to an Internet movie database the movies; now, he said, “they are very high and the mov- and you type in chemist you are not going to find these four ies have lagged behind. Socially, making movies has lagged movies,” because each movie involves a woman making behind in terms of the women chemists.” cosmetics. Another category of women chemists in movies he described is where female chemists have a masculine or gender-neutral name, such as Dr. Rae Crane in Medicine HO Man. Griep said he believes the future of chemistry in movies is very bright given recent trends. For example, he said 2009 was a great year for chemistry in the movies. All of the fol- O lowing movies had some chemistry (a lot of it on the bright O side) featured in them: Married Life; Duplicity; Good Hair; Whatever Works; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; The Informant!; Moon; Avatar; District 9; and Sherlock Holmes. He also noted that the actors portraying chemists continue to become more diverse, and there are more women and more people of color who are chemists in the movies. Griep ended by mentioning that the Alfred P. Sloan Foun- dation has funded the Science Screenwriting Programs and awards, which has supported the production of many chemis- try films. In addition, he noted that the National Academy of Sciences now has the Science and Entertainment Exchange,9 “which tries to bring scientists in collaboration with film- makers to improve the content or come up with the best type Peak 37 with Anti-cancer Activity of scientific themes that you could put in the movies—what are the most engaging themes.” FIGURE 6-5 Structure of a fictional anticancer drug in the 1992 film Medicine Man. 9For more information, see www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org/ SOURCE: Mark Griep, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (accessed January 27, 2011).
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54 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE OPEN DISCUSSION 5 Salazar replied that they are still trying to figure that out. They have had success in building up the broadcast network Poliakoff commented that his brother is a playwright and but are still learning about social media—YouTube, Twitter, that he had to write some chemistry text for his brother’s play and others. He said, “There are people who want to learn that was performed by the National Theater in the United more about things like chemistry, about things like science, Kingdom. Polikoff said, “On the opening night I was the only they love hearing this stuff from the scientists themselves. person in the audience who burst out laughing when one of They don’t necessarily like people like me, the media, tell- the characters said ‘hectofloral isopropanol.’” ing them about this kind of stuff. They want Einstein to tell Bill Carroll asked Poliakoff about going from fun and them about chemistry, I guess, in some ways, Dr. Poliakoff.” exciting videos to instilling a real interest in chemistry. He EarthSky tries to show that there are a lot of different people said, “My question is, Do you see any transference from who are doing science. “We are still building, and we are still the people who enjoy the brief videos about the elements, learning,” he added. to an interest in doing reactions with them, and doing more Poliakoff commented that there are about 1,000 people chemistry?” following periodicvideos on Twitter. “I think that I would Poliakoff said they have not done any research but have never get the research done,” he said, but Brady posts to just looked at people’s responses to the videos. They found Twitter quite regularly, and they now have about 1,000 fol- that although viewers enjoy explosions and things like that, lowers and a similar number of fans on Facebook. He noted they get nearly as good a response from the audience in the people who do subscribe really seem to stay as followers, videos that show nothing but Poliakoff sitting in his office. and from their comments it is evident that they have watched One of the most popular videos he has made is one on the quite a lot of the videos. “Chemistry of Candles,” which shows Poliakoff lighting a Nancy Blount, American Chemical Society, asked Griep candle and blowing it out in his office. if, from his work analyzing chemistry in the movies, he A lot of people are very interested in videos, but it is dif- thinks that an effective message about chemistry is being ficult to know whether this translates into an actual lasting delivered. Griep responsed: “I think usually the chemistry interest, Polikoff noted. He showed an e-mail posted by a that is presented in these movies is correct,” such as the Korean student, who said that people in his chemistry class molecule in Medicine Man. However, the public does not thought it was really boring and that chemistry is pointless know it is chemically correct. They also do not know that it until they had seen the videos and found that chemistry was is a fictional molecule. really interesting. When movies use chemistry, it is because they know the Brady Haran said they find a lot of interest in the films public is going to accept it as true. In general, the public has where they blow things up or do something that might be no way of judging whether it is true, since they really do not a bit fun and crazy, but there is also interest in ones where have the chemical knowledge. Griep thinks the reason there they are just talking through something quite scientific and is so much chemistry in these comedies is that the filmmakers dense. A lot of the people who first stumble over a video can say these true chemical things, and then add a little bit that had an explosion in it have said, “I like the explosion of gobbledygook to make it fictional, such as some special but I also liked what that crazy-haired professor was say- property. Then they build their comedy on that. ing in between the explosion, I’m going to watch more of “I think one thing that we can do as chemists is to use this.” “They subscribe [to the YouTube channel] and they these movie clips in the classroom,” Griep said. Everybody become long-term viewers. And they may have been pulled watches movies, and they probably know more about movie in by something spectacular, but then they get into the more actors than they know about chemistry. He said that if these dense chemistry.” movie clips were shown in the classroom, there would be an Following up on Griep’s talk, Bill Carroll observed that automatic connection between chemistry and movies, and the “Jekyll and Hyde” metaphor also applies to the discus- that would link into the larger network most people have sions about the perception of chemistry—the Jekyll side that with movies. It then provides an opportunity to explain the chemists want to promote versus the Hyde side that they get real chemistry, “and people always love that,” said Griep. stuck with a lot. Poliakoff added that a simple explanation for why chemis- Sharon Haynie commented on the stealth characteristic of try is correct in films is because chemistry is difficult to make radio, where listeners tend to listen passively, in contrast to up. It is like somebody having characters speak a foreign watching a video or playing a game, which tends to involve language in a film—it has to be correct. people intentionally seeking out the content. Radio can catch listeners by surprise as one program transitions to another. She asked Salazar to discuss how EarthSky is transitioning from building the surprise to building an intentional listen- ing audience.