Chem 2.0

The June 25th issue of Chemical & Engineering News has two pieces that talk about ways people are using features of the "new internet" (or Web 2.0) to disseminate and explore chemistry online.

Celia Henry Arnaud's article "A New Science Channel" looks at efforts scientists and scientific organizations have made to harness YouTube as a tool of outreach. Organizations like the Museum of Science, Boston and AAAS have taken videos created for museum kiosks and meetings and posted them on YouTube in the hopes that they "go viral" and reach a broader audience. (As AAAS discovered, this can be a challenge when competing YouTube videos include "Farting in Public".) As well, they include videos produced with the help of the Journal of Chemical Education:

The videos from the team of chemistry professor and JCE Editor John W. Moore, Associate Editor Jon L. Holmes, and videographer Jerry Jacobsen have been produced over the past 15 years. Their videos differ from many of the school-chemistry-project and blow-'em-up videos that can be found on YouTube. "A lot of effort has gone into making our videos star the chemistry and not the person who might be doing it," Jacobsen says. "You very seldom will see people, outside of a hand or something like that, in our videos because the chemistry is the star."

The videos were originally made with high school and college chemistry teachers and students in mind. Now that they have a wider reach, Moore isn't sure who makes up their audience.

Jacobsen, who is not a chemist, pushes his collaborators to help him understand why a particular bit of chemistry is interesting so that it can guide his editing. He believes that the videos have gotten "snappier" with time.

Most of the videos are available primarily on CD, but some have found their way onto the Web, including YouTube. Whenever Moore and company find one posted without permission, they request that it be removed. But now they plan to post a selection of videos on YouTube themselves.

Some of the folks involved in trying to harness YouTube to spread the word that chemistry is cool see the YouTube viewers (and video creators) as a natural audience for scientific content. As explained by Carol Lynn Alpert from the Museum of Science, Boston:

"People may have thought they were making funny videos, but they were practicing science. They were experimenting with different variables, seeing what might result, and recording it for others to see."

Alpert thinks YouTube attracts a "countercultural, skeptical, playful audience," which she sees as "in line with the true nature of science." She was curious about whether her team could harness this new venue as a way to reach audiences that might not visit a science museum.

Video entertainment that engages the brain strikes me as a good thing to have out there.

In "Second Life Science", Sarah Everts describes her "field trip" through the "Sci-Lands" of Second Life. These islands of virtual real estate have been purchased and developed (with real money) by the likes of NASA, the Nature Publishing Group (the proprietors of "Second Nature Island", where one can procure a machine generating made-to-order molecules), and more than a dozen universities. It's possible to enter the world of Second Life with free software -- one need not purchase and develop virtual properties to visit them. Indeed, if your Second Life avatar wanders to Drexel Island, s/he may well run into the avatar of Drexel University chemist and blogger Jean-Claude Bradley.

I'm a noted Luddite, but I have to say, this sounds pretty cool. Maybe it will end up interesting some of the kids (and adults) who have busy virtual lives in some of the chemistry of the three-dimensional world.


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