Science, Meet media

Posted on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

By Brandon Gillet

Did you know that the living wall in FSS cleans the air in the building? Or that the design of the FSS windows allows heat to be collected and redistributed to other buildings on campus? These are some of the topics covered in Professor Adam Brown’s new series of science videos on sustainability.

Adam Brown is a professor in the Department of Biology who specializes in science education and communication. He has produced a series of videos in partnership with a local company, Production Maverix, that teach students how to convey science in a simple way that is accessible and interesting to people who would not otherwise be interested.

“At university, we train students to talk about science mostly to other scientists,” said Brown.  “But there are other levels [of language] that are not necessarily emphasized: in particular, the public communication of science.”

According to Brown, scientists have their own technical jargon and culture, so when they talk to the public, they should try to be more ambassadors than instructors. Given his background in the performing arts, with appearances on The Nature of Things, TVO Kids, and Ted Talks to his credit, Brown designed the videos to supplement the public aspect of science communication that he felt was lacking in the regular curriculum.

Professor Adam Brown

“As opposed to giving a talk to professionals in your lab coat using technical jargon, it’s just a completely different world,” said Brown.

Recent graduate Regina Palamar hosted two of the videos and described the experience as interesting and fun. She became involved with the project through her thesis work for Professor Brown, who suggested that she take part as a way to improve her science communication skills and to gain experience in using different types of media.

“The experience was amazing,” said Palamar. “There were some moments of frustration, as there is with any project that requires a lot of schedule coordination, but the project was fun, eye-opening and I will always remember it.”

Palamar found that adjusting her writing style to fit the various parties involved during the coordination stage was the most important aspect: it taught her to tailor what she was saying to specific audiences.

“Similarly, my style of communication had to be tailored to the video, to make sure that the information would be understood by a number of different audiences,” said Palamar.

The production process was also an important component of the project, given that the various tasks involved in filming took a full day. Palamar had never realized how much time is required to initially set up and tear down, set up the different shots, arrange for re-takes, and the wait time in between.

“I can definitely say that by the end of the day, I was pretty hungry and tired, but it was worth it,” says Palamar.

The common thread that runs through the video series is sustainability, a topic that is important to the university. Brown is aiming for about 12 videos in the sustainability series, but release dates are uncertain since creating the videos is time-consuming and expensive. The professor is currently conducting the project in his free time with Production Maverix filming and editing pro bono.

“It’s worth talking about,” says Brown. “And videos are the way things go viral nowadays.”

In the future, Brown is looking at the possibility of making videos where students present their own research projects, specifically to give them an opportunity to present to the general public a topic that they would normally present to scientists. The first three sustainability videos can be found at The Green Scene: Sustainability uOttawa but Brown hopes to soon find a home for them on an official uOttawa webpage.

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