Extracurricular Activities · Teaching / Learning

Science YouTube, Vol. 1

I admit that I have arrived somewhat late to the YouTube party. Of course, over the years I’ve dipped in and out of this online behemoth to watch the occasional amusing cat, rock band or viral craze. It’s also undoubtedly the best platform to keep up with the latest late show monologues (if you’re into that), to learn how to put up a shelf, or determine whether this or that object will blend (that is the question). Yet it was only in late 2016 that I really started to get hooked on specific YouTube channels and their ‘content creators’. I now semi-regularly check out lifestyle advice from alpha m., enjoy incredible filmography, tech reviews and storytelling from Casey Neistat, quirky content and positive vibes from Lilly Singh (aka IISuperwomanII), and marvel at incredible trick shots from Dude Perfect. These and other creators on YouTube regularly put out short (3-15 minute) films that provide a compact and free source of laughter, advice, inspiration, and motivation.

There are also a bunch of amazing YouTube channels that make videos about science. Those in the chemistry community are probably already aware of Periodic Videos, a pioneering public engagement project from the University of Nottingham, UK. After uploading at least one video about each chemical element, they have moved on to making other chemistry-related films. These cover many topics, from interesting molecules and Nobel prize announcements to why the public funding of science is important. At time of writing, their top three most popular videos feature a visit to the gold bullion vault at the Bank of England (5.5 million views), plutonium (6.6 million), and what happens when you put a cheeseburger into concentrated hydrochloric acid (a staggering 19 million views). Periodic Videos are filmed and edited by Brady Haran, and typically comprise commentary from Prof Martyn Poliakoff (‘The Prof’) and his colleagues at UoN. I would encourage interested readers to check out their papers in Science (free) and Nature Chemistry ($) for a ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the project and the challenges of measuring its impact. Related projects by Brady focusing on physics, mathematics, psychology, etc can be found at his personal webpage.

Both of those papers about Periodic Videos end with a call to action for other scientists to consider engaging with the public on YouTube (or through other under-utilized technologies). I would wholeheartedly agree, particularly when you consider that YouTube may now be the second largest internet search tool after Google. In an ideal world, searches about scientific topics should result in high quality results on both platforms (i.e. with information that is discoverable, accessible and correct). It is suggested that eight out of ten 18-49 year-olds watch YouTube every month. Though this audience are not necessarily there to learn about science, they may be open to it. Haran and Poliakoff propose, and I would agree, that there is a surprisingly high demand for science-based content when it is presented in the right way. In support of this view, below I highlight some science-themed videos on YouTube from Periodic Videos as well as other creators that are producing incredible work. If you enjoy what they are doing, why not leave them a like, hit that subscribe button…and consider making a similar YouTube video yourself.

Periodic Videos (1.1 M subscribers)

0.49 – “Neil with his magic, experimental fingers has managed to liquefy it [argon] really quite simply.”

Physics Girl (1.1 M subscribers)

1.49 – “We’re creating a half-vortex ring…so cool!”

SciShow (5.2 M subscribers)

4.50 – “They had it [azidoazide azide] in a shock-proof, explosive case, in a dark, climate-controlled room…and it blew up.”

Backyard Scientist (3.4 M subscribers)

5.57 – “I think this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

Mark Rober (3.6 M subscribers)

0.00 – “I suck at darts but I’m good at engineering…which means, I’m actually really good at darts.”

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