The Frontal Cortex

Science Goes YouTube

This is a briliant idea: Youtube for test tubes. Instead of trying to translate the methodology of experiments into technical prose, why not just videotape the experiments? Most of the time, science is just a fancy form of manual labor, and as most researchers can tell you, trying to replicate a lab experiment is often an exercise in hermeneutics. So why not just show people exactly how it’s done?

Cemile Guldal pays attention to details. Her tattoo of a DNA double-helix, for example, doesn’t wrap quite all the way around her right arm because doing so would have distorted the major and minor grooves of the helix. And that simply wouldn’t do.

So when Guldal, a graduate student at Princeton University in New Jersey, began studying how well different yeast strains invade the medium on which they are growing, she followed the protocols to the letter. But no matter how many times she repeated the experiment, she couldn’t produce the results that she saw in published papers.

“For about a year, my boss thought I was completely incompetent because I couldn’t replicate those beautiful published pictures,” says Guldal. Later, she realized that her troubles stemmed from a basic misunderstanding about how the experiment was performed — she had been scrubbing the surface yeast cells from her medium, instead of simply washing it under running water.

Guldal’s struggles are precisely what the newly launched Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) strives to stamp out. The fledgling online journal, which started up this month, consists entirely of videos of scientists performing basic molecular-biology protocols.

The journal is the pet project of Moshe Pritsker, a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Pritsker hopes that JoVE will help scientists to improve the reproducibility of their work, while also providing a window for the public to view what goes on in the lab.


  1. #1 ERIC JUVE
    November 28, 2006

    Darn, I was looking for a video on the technique of supercritical CO2 drying of alcogels.

  2. #2 Andy
    November 28, 2006

    The ES thawing video shows the tech going into a liquid nitrogen tank with latex gloves and no eye protection.. of course we all did that back in the day… but I hope her safety officer doesn’t see it.

  3. #3 Kapitano
    November 28, 2006

    It’s a very good and very simple idea. But I think I can predict one of its effects: The most glamourous lab assistants will be the ones asked to demonstrate the protocols.

    “That was great the way you set up the refluxing chamber, Lola, but could you do it again, this time with more lipstick?” 😉

  4. #4 KEn
    November 29, 2006

    The group I work for has been doing a similar type of thing, but for education and outreach purposes.

    MRSEC Video Lab Manual

    Unfortunately, there are no glamorous assistants, just some hands.

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