Category Archives: multimedia

Your Ears Are Stupid: My Top Ten Tips When Writing for the Ear

Writing for videos and podcasts has taught me an important lesson: Compared to your eyes, your ears aren’t the brightest sensory organs in the room. I’m no neuroscientist, but if you look at the amount of grey matter dedicated to making sense of what we see versus what we hear, it’s apparent that we’ve evolved to rely on our eyes more than our ears.

Primary auditory cortex, featured in magenta. (Source:

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‘Tis the season for ARKiving

Horsfield’s tarsier on

I had planned to blog about crocodiles this week and post an accompanying video. But unfortunately my video editing program developed a mind of its own just before the car showed up to transport me to the airport and back to my hometown of Seattle for the holidays. Ah, techmology [sic]!

So I started looking for something else to write about and came across the website.  ARKive is an initiative of  the  UK-based Wildscreen organization, whose mission is “to promote the public understanding and appreciation of the world’s biodiversity, and the need for its conservation, through the power of wildlife imagery.”

Living in the U.S., I’d never heard of ARKive  before, even though it’s been around since the early 2000s. It was launched by legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and the basic idea is to collect and consolidate high-quality video and images of endangered species into a massive database. The goal is to “create a unique audio-visual record of life on Earth, prioritising those species at most risk of extinction.”

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Tsunamis, rovers, scientists and sea level take top AAAS video journalism awards

The winners of this year’s AAAS Kavli science journalism awards were announced today, which included four awards for stand-out science video. And the winners are (drum roll please!)…


“Going Up: Sea Level Rise in San Francisco Bay” KQED QUEST/Climate Watch (San Francisco)

A look at what climate change means for the San Francisco Bay Area. Somehow making climate change local makes it real. An artfully-produced piece with beautiful cinematography and flawless editing. The only place I ‘glazed’ was the section about government agencies that manage coastlines around the Bay Area. This obviously isn’t of much interest to those of us that live elsewhere, but then again, we aren’t the target audience.


“Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers” PBS NOVA Online

Each profile features a fun little peek into the scientist’s personality, a ten-question Q & A, an explanation of their work and an thirty-second ‘elevator speech’. This formula works perfectly for the web because the viewer can choose how much they want to watch.

These profiles in particular clinched the award:

Jean Berko Gleason: Psycholinguist

Andre Fenton: Neurobiologist

 Steffie Tomson: Synesthesia Researcher

IN-DEPTH REPORTING (an umbrella category that covers anything over 20 minutes)

“Death of a Mars Rover” National Geographic Channel

Based on the synopsis in the AAAS press release this sounds like the plot line to the Disney movie WALL-E transposed onto a Mars mission. But that’s about all the info I can find on it. The doc doesn’t turn up in search, it’s not listed in IMBD, nor is it available on Netflix. It might be very good, but I guess those of us without a subscription to National Geographic Channel will never know.

“Japan’s Killer Quake” WGBH/NOVA

I missed this when it aired but remember being amazed when I saw the promos for it running only two weeks after the tsunami hit Japan last spring. The team at NOVA must have put it into high gear to pull this together in such a short time frame.  Fortunately, the entire episode is available on-line (as are all NOVA episodes–go public broadcasting!)

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners and here’s to hoping I’ll see my name somewhere on that list in years to come.

Image via

Lizard bite force

Here is a fun and informative video by scientist-filmmakers Neil Losin and Dan Nappen on the bite of the crested anole–a lizard native to Puerto Rico which has invaded South Florida. Neil is researching how the transplanted anole has adapted to its new environment by measuring its bite force, an indicator of food preference and level of competition with other lizards. The video has a great sound track and engages us with simple motion graphics that help elucidate where the research is taking place and how the Florida anole compares to its island-inhabiting progenitors. You can watch more of Neil and Dan’s videos on the website of their production company Day’s Edge Productions.

(Thanks to Bora Zikovic @BoraZ for the tip.)

How to make a viral science video

Image: hitthatswitch/Flickr
Image: hitthatswitch/Flickr

Ever wondered what makes a video go viral? As an online science video producer I’m constantly mulling over this question, trying to figure out the right formula of content and style to create a popular video.

Some students of YouTube claim that viral videos have common characteristics.  Kevin Nalty, a professional marketer and “weblebrity” with over 187 million views on YouTube, thinks he has the formula at least partially figured out. He writes in his  book “Beyond Viral: How to attract customers, promote your brand and make money with online video” that viral videos tend to include these types of content:

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A few of my favorite science and nature documentaries

David Attenborough in "The Life of Mammals"
David Attenborough in "The Life of Mammals" Image: BBC Worldwide

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on

It’s 2011 and one of this year’s goals  is to relaunch this blog. When I started back in ’09 my goal was to build and grow a “portal” website that would cover a lot of different areas of science. But this is a fool’s errand unless you have limitless time and resources to play with.

So is back with a more personal bent and  a new focus, which is to explore the intersection of science, journalism and multimedia. Or in other words, I’ll  mostly be writing about how we tell true stories about the natural world using all of the modalities of multimedia available to us in the 21st century…whew! Don’t worry–I promise it will be fun.

So with that, let me start by sharing with you some of the science and nature documentaries that have made an impression on me over the years and continue to be a source of inspiration as I create my own body of work.  If you think I’ve missed an awesome movie or three let me know in the comments.

Death by Design:Where Parallel Worlds Meet (Friedman/sBrunet, 1995)

This is a documentary about apoptosis–a.k.a. programmed cell death; a topic most documentary producers wouldn’t touch with a very long stick.  But it’s  artfully pulled off  by Jean-Francois Brunet and Peter Friedman (a microbiologist and film director, respectively) by blending archival footage of Hollywood musicals with microcinematography of cells committing suicide.

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VIDEO: A Profile of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, an allergy to gluten, may be the most underdiagnosed health problem in America today. Health officials estimate more than two million Americans  suffer from it, but only a small fraction of cases are ever diagnosed.

In the spirit of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Science of the Times brings you the story of Kelly Courson, a 37-year old receptionist who was confronted with a bewildering array of symptoms in her early twenties. After years of misdiagnosis by doctors,  she recognized her illness as Celiac disease and began treating herself.

Now she helps other Celiac sufferers adjust to a gluten-free lifestyle through her website Celiac Chicks.

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Friday Fun…The Fantastical World of Biomedical Animation

One of the most frustrating things about working in biomedical research is the inability to translate infinitely small processes into something both visually meaningful and easy to digest.

Within every cell of our bodies is a chaotic symphony of molecular and chemical interactions that are difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye.  Scientists rely on experimental ‘snapshots’ to give them an idea of what’s happening at the microscopic level. Then they work backwards, reconstructing a sequence of events from these rather abstract clues.

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VIDEO:Robotic LEGO Submarines Teach Kids About Science and Engineering

Students from New York and New Jersey recently put their robotic LEGO designs to the test,  in the BUILD IT final design challenge held at  Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. “The underwater environment really throws them a curveball,” says Beth McGrath, director of Stevens’ Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education. “It’s a lot like a space environment.”‘

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VIDEO: How The Flu Virus Jumps Species

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on

In April, a new strain of H1N1 flu virus hopped from a pigs into people. This event sparked a pandemic that is now estimated to have killed 115 people and infected more than 17,000, according the World Health Organization. In the first video ever posted on Science of the Times, we explore how flu viruses can jump species.



The flu virus can infect all kinds of animals from ducks to chickens, pigs, humans and even whales.


But scientists think that flu viruses in all of these animals, originally came from aquatic birds, like ducks.




So how can a flu virus jump species, from birds, to other animals and ultimately to humans?


To answer this question,we need to look at the structure of the virus and how it survives.


Influenza is an RNA virus, meaning that it’s filled with strands of RNA,a genetic material similar to DNA. The outside of the virus is coated in proteins.


In order to infect a cell, the virus must dock up and deliver it’s RNA. A protein on the outside of the virus, known as hemagglutinin, sticks to receptors embedded in the cell’s outer membrane.


Once inside the cell, the viral RNA goes to work, co-opting the cell’s own molecular machinery in order to replicate itself and create proteins that will form new viruses. These new viruses, known as virions, disperse and infect other cells.


Humans CAN contract flu viruses from birds, but this rarely leads to an infection. The receptor proteins in birds and humans are different ENOUGH that the virus can’t easily dock to a cell.


However, viral RNA is not static. During replication, errors can accumulate and these can change the hemaglutinin protein just enough. Now the bird virus can infect the cells of other creatures, including humans.


But typically, that other creature is the humble pig. A pig’s cells have both the human-type and bird-type receptors. This means that both bird AND human flu viruses can infect a pigs cells. In other words, pigs act as a kind of viral middleman.


And it’s no coincidence that most flu pandemics of recent years are thought to have originated in South East Asia, where people often keep pigs and birds in close proximity.


What’s more, is that inside of a pig, flu viruses can become more infectious. Cells infected with both bird and human strains of influenza become incubators for new viral strains. The RNA can reshuffle, which could lead to new viruses with the worst traits of the two original strains.


Flu vaccines are a defense against viral infection. They stimulate antibodies against the proteins on the virus’ surface. This prevents it from docking and unloading its RNA.


But as long as the flu virus survives SOMEWHERE, in pigs for example, it can mutate again, changing its outer proteins and a newly infectious strain is born.