Poliakoff commented that his brother is a playwright and that he had to write some chemistry text for his brother’s play that was performed by the National Theater in the United Kingdom. Polikoff said, “On the opening night I was the only person in the audience who burst out laughing when one of the characters said ‘hectofloral isopropanol.’”
Bill Carroll asked Poliakoff about going from fun and exciting videos to instilling a real interest in chemistry. He said, “My question is, Do you see any transference from the people who enjoy the brief videos about the elements, to an interest in doing reactions with them, and doing more chemistry?”
Poliakoff said they have not done any research but have just looked at people’s responses to the videos. They found that although viewers enjoy explosions and things like that, they get nearly as good a response from the audience in videos that show nothing but Poliakoff sitting in his office. One of the most popular videos he has made is one on the “Chemistry of Candles,” which shows Poliakoff lighting a candle and blowing it out in his office.
A lot of people are very interested in videos, but it is difficult to know whether this translates into an actual lasting interest, Polikoff noted. He showed an e-mail posted by a Korean student, who said that people in his chemistry class thought it was really boring and that chemistry is pointless until they had seen the videos and found that chemistry was really interesting.
Brady Haran said they find a lot of interest in the films where they blow things up or do something that might be a bit fun and crazy, but there is also interest in ones where they are just talking through something quite scientific and dense. A lot of the people who first stumble over a video that had an explosion in it have said, “I like the explosion but I also liked what that crazy-haired professor was saying in between the explosion, I’m going to watch more of this.” “They subscribe [to the YouTube channel] and they become long-term viewers. And they may have been pulled in by something spectacular, but then they get into the more dense chemistry.”
Following up on Griep’s talk, Bill Carroll observed that the “Jekyll and Hyde” metaphor also applies to the discussions about the perception of chemistry—the Jekyll side that chemists want to promote versus the Hyde side that they get stuck with a lot.
Sharon Haynie commented on the stealth characteristic of radio, where listeners tend to listen passively, in contrast to watching a video or playing a game, which tends to involve 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 listening audience.
Salazar replied that they are still trying to figure that out. They have had success in building up the broadcast network but are still learning about social media—YouTube, Twitter, and others. He said, “There are people who want to learn more about things like chemistry, about things like science, they love hearing this stuff from the scientists themselves. They don’t necessarily like people like me, the media, telling them about this kind of stuff. They want Einstein to tell them about chemistry, I guess, in some ways, Dr. Poliakoff.” EarthSky tries to show that there are a lot of different people who are doing science. “We are still building, and we are still learning,” he added.
Poliakoff commented that there are about 1,000 people following periodicvideos on Twitter. “I think that I would never get the research done,” he said, but Brady posts to Twitter quite regularly, and they now have about 1,000 followers and a similar number of fans on Facebook. He noted the people who do subscribe really seem to stay as followers, and from their comments it is evident that they have watched quite a lot of the videos.
Nancy Blount, American Chemical Society, asked Griep if, from his work analyzing chemistry in the movies, he thinks that an effective message about chemistry is being delivered. Griep responsed: “I think usually the chemistry that is presented in these movies is correct,” such as the molecule in Medicine Man. However, the public does not know it is chemically correct. They also do not know that it is a fictional molecule.
When movies use chemistry, it is because they know the public is going to accept it as true. In general, the public has no way of judging whether it is true, since they really do not have the chemical knowledge. Griep thinks the reason there is so much chemistry in these comedies is that the filmmakers can say these true chemical things, and then add a little bit of gobbledygook to make it fictional, such as some special property. Then they build their comedy on that.
“I think one thing that we can do as chemists is to use these movie clips in the classroom,” Griep said. Everybody watches movies, and they probably know more about movie actors than they know about chemistry. He said that if these movie clips were shown in the classroom, there would be an automatic connection between chemistry and movies, and that would link into the larger network most people have with movies. It then provides an opportunity to explain the real chemistry, “and people always love that,” said Griep.
Poliakoff added that a simple explanation for why chemistry is correct in films is because chemistry is difficult to make up. It is like somebody having characters speak a foreign language in a film—it has to be correct.