‘It’s more complicated that that’ must be the official war cry of scientists and researchers. I have a great deal of sympathy for you, having read some brutal misrepresentations of interesting work. Sometimes it’s not so much distortion or inaccuracy, but simply the soul-destroying moment when someone’s work is presented without any of the excitement that must inspire them as a researcher.
So here’s a bit of inspiration from the chemistry team at the University of Nottingham. Admittedly, it helps considerably if your work includes lots of opportunities to blow things up (on purpose).
In September, 2007 Nottingham Science City took the bold decision to appoint a filmmaker-in-residence, Brady Haran, which led to Test Tube. He was determined to show science in a new light – warts and all. ‘I didn’t just want pretty pictures or a constant stream of “breakthroughs”, he said. ‘I wanted to show what real scientists are like and how they work. Along with the spectacular, this can include disappointments, hardship or just some hard slog on a tedious experiment.’
Remember that periodic table that you probably learned at school, even if you didn’t go on to study science at a higher level? It seems to have grown since my day, but I will be relearning it now, because the Nottingham team have made a video for every element in the table, and I’m going to watch them all. Not today, but it’s very handy to have such a large selection on hand, just waiting for that moment when you’re trying to avoid a really tedious bit of work yourself.
One of the greatest charms of these videos – apart from the delightful Professor Martyn Poliakoff’s genuine mad-scientist hair and fabulous ties – is that they aren’t overplanned. They don’t try to tell you everything there is to know about each element, but you are still left thinking ‘hmmm, I never knew that’. And they keep you coming back for more. Two of my favourites are Sodium and Potassium.
But they aren’t doing these videos just to make you jealous that your job isn’t quite so volatile. There is a very interesting explanation of this year’s Nobel prize for chemistry, and one of the team celebrate having a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal by explaining to viewers what it’s all about.
There’s even an international development angle, when Pete Licence (who really likes to blow things up) travels to Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, where he is Adjunct Professor and lectures on sustainability and green chemistry.