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From syntax to cinematography; Using video to communicate scientific research.

Guest post from the Suburban Jitter's team

In the modern world, information runs wild. With the help of the internet, humanity has built an empire of knowledge, volumes of information far larger than one person could ever undertake in their own lifetime, all accessible through the smartphones in our pockets.

For the modern scientist this can be a blessing, as you can draw upon hundreds of prior publications to bolster up your own work and take your research to new depths. However, for the modern “science communicator" this wealth of knowledge may be a curse, as it can seem impossible to set yourself apart. If you are a researcher trying to highlight the importance of your work, how do you get it seen? Just like a tree falling in the woods; if a paper is published in a journal and no one is around to read it, did it make a sound?

We can no longer rely on written research to stand apart, let alone reach the public. This dilemma calls for a format which for years has been under utilized by scientists; video / visual media. In today’s digital age, creating a visual piece worthy of your research is not hard. But how does one effectively use video to communicate a research project?

Pacing and contents Keep it simple! Give context and ambition. What is the problem you are trying to solve and why does it matter? It is important to connect with your viewer early on to give them a reason to be interested in your research. Explain the results simply, use visual data where possible and don’t let this section drag on for ages. Similar to a research proposal, a great way to draw interest is to sell your research’s story (i.e. how your work will impact the future). Scriptwriting can be the hardest battle when trying to communicate science. A good script needs to be concise, and broken into simple segments. Especially when explaining scientific theory, or your findings.

Camera The smartphone in your pocket really is the ultimate tool these days with the majority able to record in 4k resolution and most feature some form of image stabilization. Make sure to record in landscape and keep the subject close to the camera, allowing their voice to project well into the microphone.

Location Change location as you progress through your work, as it will help the viewer group small points to an overarching idea. Keep the background related to what is currently being discussed e.g. A wide- open outdoor space when introducing research context and ambition. A shot in the lab when covering results. It is also important to consider the noise level of a location.

Lighting Use natural lighting, avoid direct sunlight on the subject’s face. Use a room with large windows or an outside location with ample shade. If outside, avoid shooting during the middle of the day as the sun will not cast shadows on objects, removing depth from your shot.

There are numerous user-friendly editing software these days or even mobile apps. We recommend Adobe Premiere Pro or Lightworks (100% free). Combine this with a quick YouTube tutorial on how your software of choice works and you will be free to create your video however you imagine it. At the end of the day, the goal of this video is to support your project. There is no need to go overboard with animations and action shots. A good science communication piece just needs to get the fundamentals right. Video is powerful, and when utilised correctly, it can bring your research alive.

Suburban Jitters

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