VIDEO: Particle Accelerators and beyond

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Two new videos produced recently for the Royal Institution that take you inside the ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility in Oxfordshire.

This is a scientific research facility that uses a high-energy proton accelerator to generate neutrons which are then used by visiting scientists to research the structure and properties of materials.

Find out about how they power the facility and an example of the cutting edge research taking place in the videos below!

Proteins and Particles

How to Power a Particle Accelerator

Video

VIDEO: Living in space – An Astronaut’s Perspective

Video produced for the Royal Institution, for the 2015 Advent Project “A Place Called Space”. The piece is composed from multiple interviews with astronauts that were recorded between September – November 2015.

The film features 4 astronauts (Dan Tani, Helen Sharman, Jean-François Clervoy , Mike Barratt) and uses NASA archive footage to explore the ins and outs of living in space (spoiler alert: it’s fun, but it ain’t easy!).

All interviews were transcribed and then common threads were grouped together and collected on an edit timeline. The audio segments were cut down and edited together, then brought into FCPX where they were combined with video footage. I spent quite a while searching and logging appropriate NASA archive footage. Once the rough form was assembled, I introduced some music and refined the edit to work with the tracks I’d chosen.

AUDIO: Anatomy of a Panic Attack

Image credit: cristina (Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/cristinafotografia/5025559787/)

Occurring without warning, the panic attack is a crippling and cruel symptom of many anxiety disorders. These debilitating episodes thrust individuals into intense bouts of terror, leaving them fighting to regain control of their own body.

The piece combines interview material recorded with a friend and abrasive sound design to pull the listener into the experience of a panic attack. It was produced as part of the Hubbub Relaxation / Cacophony tape, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and featured during the Lates Spectacular event in September 2015.

Listen to the Relaxation / Cacophony Tape in full here: www.inthedarkradio.org/the-dark-room…e-collection/

Image: cristina – www.flickr.com/photos/cristinafo…rafia/5025559787/

Video

Why Does The Placebo Effect Work?

My latest film for The Ri Channel takes a look at the placebo effect and it’s central paradox – if we have the ability to cure our symptoms of illness when taking a placebo- why can’t we just do this all the time?

The film looks at the ‘WHY’ rather than the ‘HOW’ of the placebo effect and features Professor Nicholas Humphrey – an evolutionary psychologist who has contributed a significant amount of work to our understanding  of consciousness and the evolutionary context of the placebo effect.

I was aware of how the body is able to reduce pain through the use of it’s own internal painkillers (the endogenous opiates) – but I’d never really considered the evolutionary context of the placebo effect. WHY can’t we just deploy it whenever we want, why is it that a sugar pill can somehow grant us permission to do this and what information are we acting upon when we take placebo medications.

The film was created as part of a YouTube Super Collaboration (possibly the first in its kind) – which brought together 10 Science YouTube Channels each exploring 10 unanswered questions in science – the project was coordinated by the Channel AllTime10s – a monumental effort cajoling all ten channels into meeting the same deadline! You can view the AllTime10s video below, which links to all the videos in the collaboration:

Video creators include VSauce, Veritasium, Minute Physics and ASAPscience.

Production notes

AllTime10s asked us to produce a video on the placebo effect and we had a very tight deadline for this film (about a month to conceive and produce!) – after a bit of mild panic and some research we were delighted to have Professor Humphrey on board – he was incredibly helpful in informing this project.

Due to limited time we decided to shoot this in the format of an interview and cut the audio together to present a logical argument. I think the most difficult aspect in producing this film was in conveying the information succinctly, in the right order and deciding what to leave out. Obviously there was a lot of nuance and detail that we simply couldn’t afford to go into – so there was a lot of careful consideration involved in presenting these arguments concisely to a YouTube audience. As it often goes with the editing process – there were some painful moments  having to excise sections from the film.

Professor Humphrey had a number of thought experiments to help illustrate his arguments and I was keen to use these within the film, as they help to add real-world context from which to grasp these ideas. One of these was an anecdote of a schoolboy falling over in the playground and experiencing pain – with this section I was particularly conscious that we needed some sort of visual aid to augment the story.

At first I started with simple static slides created in Key Note, but found myself longing for something more dynamic. These slides then became placeholders and I later revamped them in Motion. This was true for the rest of the film as well, we were dealing with a lot of talking-head footage and I wanted to add in some motion graphics to help break this up and provide moments of pause between sections. I must say I’m completely new to using Motion and animation – so they are simplistic, but it was a great way of teaching myself how to do these things.

The style of these animations was very much guided by the central anecdote in the film (the schoolboy story) and this is why we see a chalkboard, wobbly text (it’s not Comic Sans!), simplistic stick men (I’m also a bit crap at graphics) and playful music.

I also really like the opening titles – although I’ll admit they’re not entirely keeping with the rest of the film’s style.

The film was shot with a Panasonic AF101, Nikon D7100 and edited on FCPX.

More on the placebo paradox:

Expanding on the power of the image

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Non-linear use of Multimedia

I was recently made aware of the online platform Thinglink.com – which essentially allows you to ‘tag’ an image and embed media from around the web – such as from YouTube and Soundcloud. Anyway this really got me thinking about some of the potential that such a platform offers – images provide a really powerful and direct way of communicating something (an image is worth a thousand words, bla bla) – and being able to combine an image with additional multimedia or information can offer a much richer experience to the audience.

For example, you could use an image as a backdrop for presenting other media (such as related video and audio), or you could expand upon an image, by tagging key areas and providing additional context with video, audio, text and other images.

I thought a lot about how this could be used in terms of story telling and perhaps even communicating science, particularly by augmenting image diagrams. There’s loads of cool interactive / animated diagrams and educational apps already out there, that essentially bring textbooks into the digital sphere, but they take a lot of ‘know-how’ and time to develop. Thinglink offers a quick and accessible route for users to create their own interactive diagrams and multimedia packages, through which to share a rich wealth of information and also tell stories through non-linear pathways.

So I took my recent audio documentary on the vOICe technology (you can listen to it here) and I cut out sections that matched up with a diagram I found in a New Scientist article on the same subject (you can read it here).

Diagram below:

I then uploaded my clips to Soundcloud here:

and used Thinglink to embed the short sound files into the New Scientist diagram image – to produce an interactive diagram of sorts. The audio accompaniments augment the visual impact of the New Scientist diagram with some added ‘context’ from my documentary. Users can explore the subject at their own pace and explore the clips in any order they choose. Click here to see it all together.

This was just a really quick proof of concept mock up, using existing work – but I’m really keen to start using this platform as a way of quickly creating rich multimedia packages, which combine images, video and audio to communicate stories, ideas and information in a non-linear fashion.

Audio feature: Oh, I See

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Seeing with your ears.

An audio feature I produced over the summer for Pod Academy, exploring the development of the vOICe technology and it’s impact on blind users. The vOICe is a computer program developed by dutch engineer Dr Peter Meijer which essentially converts images into sound. Through training and experience blind users can learn to interpret these sounds as a sort of ‘synthetic vision’. The piece explores the technology from the perspective of blind user Pat Fletcher, and uncovers some of the science and technology behind its use with it’s creator Dr Peter Meijer and cognitive psychologist Dr Michael Proulx (University of Bath).

It was my thought that technology and the computer would be my way out of blindness.

-Pat Fletcher, vOICe user

Download it HERE

Pat Fletcher
Blind user Pat Fletcher uses the vOICe with video glasses, stereo headphones and a portable notebook computer (Image: Barbara Schweizer )

Essentially, the software takes spatial information captured by a camera and converts this into a coded soundscape. Users can then learn how to decode this auditory signal into a visual one thanks to a process known as ‘sensory substitution’, where information from one sense is fed to the brain via another. Fundamentally what the vOICe is doing is re-routing information usually obtained by the eyes and delivering it through another sense organ, the ears.

Although the neuroscience and psychology behind the technology is still largely unknown, it is thought that the visual cortex is eventually recruited to process the incoming auditory information and through experience, is able to decode it as spatial / visual information. There’s a great article over at New Scientist that goes into greater depth about the neuroscience behind it  – including a useful diagram depicting how the technology works.

The software is currently freely available and can be used with virtually any imaging device, from webcams to camera-mounted glasses – there’s even an android version available for mobile devices! With the increasing prevalence of mobile computing, the vOICe technology is liberating users from their blindness, allowing them to step outside and experience the world through a completely new visual perspective.

For more information visit: http://www.seeingwithsound.com/ where you can experiment with the vOICe for youself and learn more about how it works. I’ve also prepared a page with a collection of images as heard through the vOICe software, including some featured within the piece above.

Music

  1. Hypermagic – Start Again Start
  2. Ed Prosser – Untitled
  3. – – b31
  4. No Color – L’Aube
  5. Hpermagic – Pico Bisco
  6. Ed Prosser – Untitled
  7. Marcel Pequel – Four

Freesound Credits (freesoundarchive.com)

  1. Alarm Clock – 14262__xyzr-kx__alarm-clock
  2. Camera Shutter – 16071__heigh-hoo__nikonf4
  3. Data sound – 3647__suonho__futuretrocomputing-10-suonho

Pod Academy – In The Morgue

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I’ve recently started producing podcasts for a new non-profit organisation called Pod Academy – they release weekly podcasts on academia and research, covering everything from the arts and culture to science and the environment. There’s a really nice range of subjects covered by the podcasts and their library is growing on a weekly basis. You can browse what they have to offer here.

Auto-erotic Asphyxiation

My latest offering takes a trip around the morgue of the Sunderland Royal Infirmary, with pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton as a guide. The piece provides a glimpse into mortuary life,  from working with the dead on a daily basis, to dealing with cross dressing ‘auto-erotic asphyxiation’ fatalities.

You can listen to the piece over at the Pod Academy website here. Or download it here. The piece takes material recorded for my larger documentary piece ‘The D-Word’.

If you want to stay up to date with the podcasts you can subscribe to their podcast feed via iTunes.

The Plankton Chronicles

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A creative mix of beauty and knowledge

Recently on the Ri Channel we featured a new collection of videos from the Plankton Chronicles – a gorgeous web-video project created by research biologist Christian Sardet working in collaboration with Montreal production company, Para Films. Although I tend to refrain from reposting content from the Ri Channel on this blog, I’m really captivated by the work this project is producing, it’s simply stunning – see below:

The series takes you down into the dark alien world of plankton, a category of aquatic life that encompasses an incredibly diverse collection of organisms; one which includes animals, plants, bacteria and archaea. Each episode delves into the life of a particular organism – from iridescent comb jellies to gelatinous zooplankton – all presented through a stunning mix of high definition video, abstract sound design and narration to guide you along. The project aims to illuminate the hidden world of these bizarre creatures and ‘magnifies our fascination for the wonders of underwater life’.

Easily the most attractive feature of this project is the incredible macro photography, with illuminated organisms scurrying across jet black backgrounds in exquisite detail. The sound design is also commendable, with synthetic bleeps and pulses underlining the ‘otherworldliness’ of this complex ecosystem (and is reminiscent of a particularly cherished episode from the BBC Blue Planet series). The videos have also been carefully scripted and tightly crafted for the ‘quick-fix’ web-audience, with episodes only running for around two minutes each. With this in mind it’s important to note that these videos are beautifully paced – allowing the content to breath and flow under its own rhythm, and providing a delicate balance between eye candy and information.

The videos are all presented across an interactive web-platform which pulls together additional information, imagery and extended links. The videos are also available in a choice of either French or English – opening up accessibility further.

We asked project founder Christian Sardet for a bit more detail on the project and I’ve reproduced some of his comments below:

What are the aims of the Plankton Chronicles and what are you trying to achieve with it?

The series was conceived in the context of the Villefranche sur mer Marine Station an ideal place to study plankton and the Tara Oceans expedition devoted to exploring plankton in all oceans. This scientific adventure definitely raises ecological awareness. Plankton Chronicles deal with biodiversity, but focus mainly on the visual splendor of marine organisms. The series magnifies our fascination for the wonders of underwater life.

What challenges did you face capturing your footage, and producing the videos?

Catching and maintaining species in perfect shape is tough. Luck and patience are keys to success. Filming animal behavior and movements can take hours of trial and error. Use of dark field macroscopy and microscopy help reveal the exquisite patterns of transparent and gelatinous organisms. Filming requires lots of light and  sensitive cameras. We benefited from the great new SLR cameras able to film in HD format which just appeared on the market when we started the project.

What role do you think the internet and online videos play in today’s communication of science and education?

A major role. It is possible to produce quality documents like the plankton Chronicles episodes on a shoe string budget and make them accessible to large numbers of viewers. The ability to create a site with complementary videos, texts and photos is also a great advantage provided by the internet.

What makes a great science communication video?

A creative mix of beauty and knowledge

The project is continuing to update new content on a regular basis – check out a selection of works on the Ri Channel or visit the Plankton Chronicles directly to browse the full library of videos.

TED Ed have also made a great short using footage from this project:

The Dustbin Man Cometh (again)

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Following the recent In The Dark: Cityscapes event I was interviewed for the Monocle 24 radio show ‘The Urbanist‘ – we talked about some of the pieces played, discuss the power of audio and explore the nature of urban soundscapes. You can have a listen below, although I admit, I much prefer being on the other side of the microphone.

Listen here: [audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/13042873/Urbanist%20ITD%20interview.mp3]

The Dustbin Man Cometh was also featured featured on NTS radio by Graham Dunning on his show ‘Fractal Meat on a Spongy Bone‘ – the show’s a nice listen for anyone interested in avant garde audio, featuring a jagged mix of experimental music, sound art and sonic experimentation. There’s a blog associated with the show here and you can catch the show every second Friday between 8-10am on NTS Radio. Recommended listening.

You can listen to the show below:

http://soundcloud.com/n_u_t_s/fractal-meat-on-a-spongy-6

Interview: Dr Matt Green and the Sound of Coffee

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Before Christmas I started working on an ambitious new project for Unreal City Audio who are producing multi-part audio tours exploring offbeat strands of London history. I am currently helping to produce part of their Coffeehouse series, which will eventually end up as an interactive iPhone App.

The tours are being developed as a series of ‘legs’ with an emphasis on narrative and rich sound design, so are suitable for listening both on location or elsewhere.

The Coffeehouse tour currently in development guides the listener along a mysterious and often dark path of London history, tracing the rise of coffee into the forefront of mainstream culture. The main challenge (and joy) of this project is in recreating an authentic and immersive sound which will pull the listener into the rich narrative written by historian, coffee expert and project co-founder Dr Matt Green.

The tours aims to provide what Matt describes as a ‘cathartic voyage of discovery’ into an alternate London history, not often visited by mainstream guides or tours. You can hear more about these tours, including how each leg is developed and produced in an interview I recorded with Matt: 

You can listen to a brief extract from one of the pieces I’ve been producing which takes place in George Yard (see map below) – in it we hear the flames of the great fire beginning to engulf the streets of London. Suspicion has fallen upon Turkish coffee vendor Pasqua Roseé whose mysterious new drink has been generating a lot of unease with many of the locals (and it appears they’re out to get him!) but not everything is as it seems…

In addition to the audio tours, Matt has also adapted the material into a series of ‘live’ walking tours, which he presents accompanied by actors and musicians, and are already being met with critical acclaim. He will be giving tours throughout March and April, to find out more and book a place drop by his website here.

You can also keep up to date with Unreal City Audio via their twitter (from which they also tweet unusual facts about London history).