VIDEO: Particle Accelerators and beyond

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

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VIDEO: An Astrological April Fools

This year we wanted to go all out for our April Fools effort, so we decided to make a video to announce this year’s (fake) Christmas Lectures subject and lecturer. You can see the effort below:

In reality, the lecturer featured in the video is none-other than Ri Director of Finance, Michael de Crespigny (at least his name was real) who, may I add, played a fantastic role in portraying a quantum astrologer.

Although we don’t usually make a video announcing the Christmas Lecturer we wanted to create a piece of content that would work for our international YouTube audience as much as those that regularly tune into the Lectures in the UK.

So we set about scripting a piece that straddled the line between nonsense and plausibility, settling on the subject of astrology and making liberal use of the word “quantum” to hopefully pull the wool over people’s eyes.

I’ve written an extended blog piece over on the Ri’s blog.

VIDEO: The Risks of The Everyday – with Jared Diamond

Over the summer I worked with the talented artist and illustrator Andrew Khosravani on what will be the first of a series of animated shorts for the Royal Institution’s digital video channels.

For sometime I’d wanted to re-purpose content from our long-form lecture videos by excerpting audio clips and using these as the basis for animations. Other organisations have had great success doing this in the past, particularly the RSA (check out their RSA animate videos) and so it struck me as a no-brainer when Andrew recently joined our team.

In choosing the right clip, it was important to find an excerpt that was fairly self-contained and that would stand-alone outside of the context of the longer event video. For this first project we decided upon an excerpt from a Q&A event with the Pulitzer prize winning scientist and author Jared Diamond, filmed back in 2013. In the excerpt, Jared discusses how insights from the lifestyles of far-removed cultures can impact the way we think about our own lives, particularly in the context of our approach to risk – an anecdote that has always stuck with me since filming the event.

After trimming and pruning the audio clip to get the flow as tight as possible Andrew set about story boarding the piece and after we were agreed on the direction he set about creating the artwork assets and animation. As you’ll see from watching the piece, the attention to detail is pretty breathtaking, Andrew writes on the Ri Blog,

“Because of the density of the vegetation in the animation, some of these scenes were created with upwards of 1000 layers of illustration.”

All this serves to creates an incredible visual feast, one that really pulls the audio into a rich and colourful visual medium.

Once the animation was finished I worked on the sound design to tidy up the audio clip and add a little more depth and weight to the piece. As you’ll hear it’s all fairly subtle, which was necessary because the visuals are definitely leading here and there’s a lot going on in the frame already.

The aim of this project was always to blend scientific content with an artistic aesthetic in an attempted to reach audiences that don’t traditionally engage with our more science heavy content. The piece was subsequently awarded a ‘staff pick’ on Vimeo and was picked up by several art and design sites around the web, so we were obviously pretty chuffed about that!

We’re now working on our second piece, which sets visuals to an audio piece I made, featuring British astronaut Helen Sharman discussing her dreams about space. We will be releasing this piece in the lead up to the Christmas Lectures – so stay tuned!

VIDEO: Slow motion chemistry and explosive BBQs!

Some recent work shot over the summer:

Slow Motion Contact Explosive

Working with nitrogen triiodide is pretty nerve racking stuff – it’s prepared wet and left to dry, after which it becomes an extremely sensitive contact explosive. So with some careful tip-toeing about we set-up some high-speed cameras to capture the violent, but undeniably beautiful reaction in extreme slow-motion.

Extreme Physics BBQ

What happens when you pump mains electricity through a piece of steak? We teamed up with the BBC Brit Lab channel to cook meat using some extreme physics, including bottle rockets to grill prawns and parabolic reflectors to sear meat – the results were surprisingly delicious!

Crystal Clear: Exploring Crystallography on Film

X-ray Crystallography – ever heard of it? Perhaps not, but it’s arguably one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the 20th Century. Why? Well, it’s an incredibly powerful technique that allows us to look at really small things, like protein molecules or even DNA! Once we know how these molecules are assembled, we can begin to better understand how they work.

How does it work? Essentially you take your sample, crystallise it and then fire X-rays at it. You then measure the way in which the crystal scatters or diffracts the X-rays – the resulting ‘diffraction pattern’ is what you need (and a bit of maths) to work back to the structure of the molecules that make up the crystal. So in theory, as long as you can crystallise your sample – you should be able to work out the molecular structure!

To find out more watch this simple animation we recently published:

The technique was developed over 100 years ago and it has led to some incredibly important discoveries, including the structure of DNA – since it’s inception, work relating to Crystallography has been awarded 28 Nobel prizes. To mark the continuing success of Crystallography – we received funding from the STFC to produce a series of films that helped explain and celebrate this technique.

The above animation was scripted in house and animated by the awesome 12foot6 – it also features the voice of Stephen Curry, a structural biologist based at Imperial College London.

Understanding Crystallography

I produced and directed this two-part series, working with Elspeth Garman of Oxford University and Stephen Curry. The two pieces aim to explain how the technique works and what’s needed to grow your crystals and subject them to X-ray analysis. The films take us from a microbiology lab at the University of Oxford to the Diamond Light Source, a huge facility that hosts a particle accelerator designed to generate incredibly powerful beams of X-rays.

As always, the hardest part in producing these pieces was in deconstructing the explanation of what is a very complicated process… hopefully we pulled it off – see for yourself below!

Part 1 – why proteins need to be crystallised and how this is done.

Part 2 – what it takes to shine x-rays at your crystals and how we work back from diffraction patterns to determine structures.

Crystallography and beyond

Producer Thom Hoffman also worked on this project – he produced two pieces, one exploring the history of farther and son team who helped develop the technique

and the other looking at the application of this technique on the recent Curiosity Mars rover.

 

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Video: Exploding Baubles at 34,000 fps!

Christmas is over – but here’s a very quick film I put out just before the holidays:

The glass baubles (unused props from the 2012 Christmas Lectures) were each sealed with a tiny amount of water inside. As the water was heated under pressure it boils at a higher temperature and when it does evaporate within the sealed space, the internal pressure builds until the glass structure fails. At this point the water (heated beyond it’s normal boiling point under atmospheric conditions) flashes into steam with explosive force and the bauble is shattered into a shower of glass fragments. All this happens extremely quickly, you hear a loud bang and then see a shower of glass – far too fast to be seen by the human eye (or a camera shooting at 25 fps).

Enter Phantom

It requires the muscle of a specialist high-speed camera to really catch a glimpse of what’s going on here. For this film we used a Phantom v1610 – which provided extremely high frame-rates, just what you need to get a better glimpse of the action! However, even at a blistering 34,000 fps you can see just how quickly the explosion event occurs – within the space of 1 -2 frames! A rough calculation shows just how fast this is, with one frame at 34,000 being the equivalent of around 29 microseconds in real time, that’s 0.000029 seconds!

You can see the unedited footage below:

As you increase the frame-rate on these cameras, you’re reducing the amount of time each individual frame is exposed, so you need to shine a lot of light on your scene with the higher frame-rates in order to see anything. As you go up to the higher frame-rates you’re also capturing a lot more information and to handle this the camera usually has to lower the resolution – this provides a rather agonising compromise between capturing something at very high-speed and retaining acceptable image quality.

Regardless of this, the results were simply breathtaking and why wouldn’t they be? It’s like being able to slow-time down and observe our world from a totally new perspective. Watch this space for more high-speed footage over the coming year.

Video: Chromosome Trailer (RiAdvent 2013)

It’s almost December which means we’re bringing back the Royal Institution Advent Calendar series. Watch the the trailer below to preview some of the stuff coming up over the days of December – it was a lot of fun to make.

Inspired by this year’s Christmas Lectures ‘Life Fantastic’ by Dr Alison Woollard we’ll be releasing a new video each day throughout December, taking a look at the human chromosomes, one by one.

You’ll be able to access the films through an interactive calendar or through our YouTube Channel.

Video: This Film Sucks! – The Science of Leeches

Tim Cockerill returns to take a  look at some leeches in a short piece produced for YouTube’s Geek Week back in August. If you’re a bit squeamish this probably isn’t for you!

We couldn’t really make a video about leeches without showing off their impressive feeding apparatus, a Y-shaped jaw packing in roughly 300 teeth! This was a tricky shot to achieve, we had to persuade the leech to attach to a glass plate, holding it in position by hand, allowing us to shoot from below with a macro lens. It was a great sight to behold once we finally got it and it certainly helps bring something to the film that you hopefully wont have seen elsewhere.

We also had to get some footage of a leech feeding, so we set one loose on Tim’s arm, shooting a time-lapse to demonstrate how much they can expand during the feeding. Once it had attached to feed, we were very much at the mercy of the Leech’s hunger as we couldn’t shoot the final shots until it had detached. As Tim mentions in the film, it’s not a good idea to pull or burn leeches off as this may cause them to vomit their stomach contents back into the open wound – not a good idea if you don’t know what the leech as been feeding on previously. The best course of action to take is to let detach when it’s good and ready.

We also wanted to dispel a common myth about leeches using anaesthetics to dull the pain the sensation of pain whilst feeding – as Tim reports there’s little scientific evidence to support this and he certainly reports to feel a stinging sensation as the leech feeds on him.

After about 3 hours the leech was finally full and very happily detached from Tim’s arm – during ‘the feeding’ the leech utilises an anti-coagulant (called hirudin) and as you can see in the film this prevents the blood from clotting, causing the wound to bleed profusely four a couple of hours after it’s detached!

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:

Video: The Alkali Metal Match

Lighting a match with a single drop of water, sort of…

A break from audio related work – here’s a little video I made recently for the Ri Channel. It’s not exactly the most of significant of experiments, but when someone commented on a previous YouTube video asking whether it would be possible to ignite a match with a piece of Sodium and a single drop of water, we thought we should have a go.

The video was shot in a morning on a single Panasonic AG-HMC151, in the Royal Institution’s legendary prep room with demo Technician Andy Marmery.