A golden opportunity

Science communication, when combined with a vault of gold and a self-described “eccentric hairstyle,” takes on a new life. In this instance, you might call that new life Professor Martyn Poliakoff at the University of Nottingham, but you’d only be half right.

In the video below, Professor Poliakoff stands inside the English bank vault holding all of the country’s gold reserve. He shares fascinating facts and observations about the value of the vault’s content. But if you keep your eyes trained on Professor Poliakoff and his fuzzy halo, you’ll miss the man behind the camera, video journalist Brady Haran. Take a look at this fabulous bit of fun, and I’ll reconvene in a couple inches of screen space.

This elemental exploration of gold is one of over 100 short films produced by Brady Haran for The Periodic Table of Videos. He and a group of researchers at The University of Nottingham made a video for every entry on the periodic table of elements.

In May 2011, Haran and Poliakoff published an essay on science and society in Science about the video project and what it accomplishes:

“The approach was unconventional: no scripts or storyboards, but a passionate desire to appeal to a general audience…The result of this unusual process was a collection of videos with spontaneity and freshness—a feeling of “live” chemistry. Collaborating with trained journalist Haran resulted in professional production values and editorial standards.”

The videos on the site are fun to click through and the Periodic Table of Videos (PTOV) has quite a following, as the 1.4 million views of the gold video indicates. The project and its success are a perfect example of what happens when a talented communicator and passionate scientists, Poliakoff isn’t the only one on screen, work together.

In their Science essay, Haran and Poliakoff acknowledge the importance of their collaboration in a time when the relationship between journalists and researchers is noticeably strained (one science journalist, Ed Yong, even diagrammed the tension ). The British duo acknowledged their trust in one another as an important component of the project:

“All of this probably works because the participating scientists have done something that is increasingly unusual—they have trusted a journalist to tell their stories.”

I came to the Periodic Table of Videos project looking for sciency entertainment and left with a reminder about something deeper, the importance of forming relationships. So I tip my figurative hat to Brady Haran and the team, for doing what good journalism/storytelling/communication does, drawing people in and then taking them somewhere meaningful.

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