I made this film in the first half of the year and it features one of my favourite demos from the 2012 Christmas Lectures – a levitating superconductor flying around a Möbius strip made from over 2,000 magnets. The thing is an absolute joy to watch and perfectly shows off the superconductor which can be seen hovering above and below the track!
The video went on to be one of our most successful pieces – getting over half a million views soon after it was released – it got picked up on a number of popular blogs and websites, from Gizmodo to Boing, Boing!
It took ages to edit mostly because I was getting all caught up with the detail of explanations and how best to condense everything down into as concise a package as possible – I ended up shelving it for several months and nearly didn’t return to it – I’m so glad I did! It really helped coming back to it with a fresh mind and I soon worked round my problems to get it out of the edit.
It was shot all on a single camera which I think also benefited the explanations – we had to repeat these a number of times to obtain variation in shots so we were able to refine these with each subsequent take. Unusually for this series of films I used our 70-200mm lens which gave really nice close-ups, both on the hovering boat/train but also of Andy – these cut in really nicely to give some variation in shots during the longer explanation sections.
Fire breathing is not a hobby I’ve ever attempted to take up and that’s probably for the best – both for my own wellbeing and for that of those around me. However, I did recently have the pleasure of meeting Tim Cockerill – someone who has taken this up as a hobby and luckily is rather good at it. Actually, he’s ‘Doctor’ Tim Cockerill, because he’s also an entomologist, that’s correct, a fire breathing entomologist!
Anyway, we decided to make a short and simple film exploring the science behind his act, also known as the ‘human volcano’ – essentially a film that would look at the process of combustion and how this relates to the methodology of fire breathing.
We also made good use of our GoPro and strapped it to his head to get some awesome point of view fire breathing shots – you can see these in full below:
There was a bit of a struggle in deciding how to explain burning, we wanted to avoid the use of the ‘fire triangle’ – (often taught at school) because we didn’t want to make something resembling a dry educational film, but at the same time we didn’t want to get too bogged down in the chemistry of oxygen and how this relates to its reactivity.
In the end we settled for explaining what ‘burning’ really means – I think the word often leads us away from understanding / remembering what it means to burn something. Essentially it’s just the name we give to the chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel, a reaction occurs and new products are formed (and energy is given off in the form of light and heat). In this case the fuel Tim is using is a hydrocarbon which he reacts with the oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide and water (and the fire ball!)
So yes, we haven’t gone into the chemistry of oxygen and why it’s so reactive – but I think our explanation is sufficient for the purpose of the film – we wanted to attract people with the thrills of fire breathing and use this as an in-route to explain some of the underlying chemical principles.
I think it’s really easy to forget simple things like this and we often assume we know what we mean when we use an everyday term like burning. It’s only when someone calls you out and asks you to explain what’s going on that we may stumble and realise we don’t actually know as much as we assumed we did. The YouTube Channel Veritasium does a great job at highlighting common shortcomings and misconceptions when it comes to explaining everyday phenomena (watch the video ‘Misconceptions About Temperature’).
A short film I made with materials scientist and science presenter Mark Miodownik demonstrating some of the weird properties of ferrofluid – a liquid with a suspension of ferromagnetic nanoparticles locked within it, causing it to respond to external magnetic fields.
Using a powerful neodymium magnet and a large steel bolt, Mark demonstrates how the fluid behaves in the presence of a strong magnetic field – forming some very strange, but very beautiful patterns. The fluid is pretty messy and has a similar consistency to oil, so it was important to avoid direct contact with the magnet (it would literally coat the magnet and become inseparable) – so the bolt is effectively used to channel the magnetic field and act as a temporary magnet over which to pour the ferrofluid.