This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Capturing your research on film

Photo of Hannover Congress Centrum

TPDL 2016 took place at the grand Hannover Congress Centrum.

Communicating science through video was the theme of a workshop I participated in yesterday in Hannover, Germany, as part of the Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries conference (TPDL 2016). It was a varied audience that included journalists, academics and librarians. I came away feeling inspired by all the possibilities, but realizing that science communication has a long way to go to use this medium to its full potential. I’ll share with you here some of the key messages.

As Physics World’s multimedia editor, I used my slot to talk about some of the journalistic videos I’ve produced and commissioned during the past few years – discussing what’s worked, what hasn’t and where I think journalistic video production is heading. I made the point that to create engaging web video you have to think carefully about how your audience will be watching the films. Your film may look great on a large monitor, but will it be enjoyed by someone watching it on a smartphone on a bus or train? Also, what are you trying to achieve with the film? Are you trying to entertain or promote something? Or perhaps you are trying to teach? The style and tone will vary depending on the purpose.

Short-form explainer videos such as Physics World’s 100 Second Science series can introduce an area of science and work well when presenters are clear and passionate. Web documentaries can be a great way of presenting science in more depth while exploring the impact of science on society using narratives, such as the films we commissioned during the International Year of Light (IYL 2015). Web science films work well when events unfold on screen and when they include lots of close-up images – the lifeblood of visual storytelling on the web.

If you’re thinking these are obvious points to make, you’re right – they are. But I’m sure you, like me, regularly see videos that fail to capture the imagination, or fail to represent the science accurately.

One of the workshop delegates Thilo Körkel said that the vast majority of science videos he comes across lack the basic elements of good science journalism. Information about the source of scientific information is not included, neither is any context about how the science being presented fits in with its research field. And most web science films don’t contain any third party opinions about the validity and significance of the science – partly due to the practicality of producing a film featuring scientists who may be based on opposite sides of the globe. Körkel and his team at Spektrum der Wissenschaft (the German issue of Scientific American) address this problem by curating English-language and German-language science videos based on their journalistic merit – see their selection at SciViews.

These points re-iterated something I have felt for a while. YouTube is full of popular-science videos, some of which are great and get literally millions of views (the Minute Physics and Veritasium channels are great examples). But there is still much value to be gained in producing and watching science videos that take a more journalistic approach. These films don’t always garner as many views but they can examine the processes of science and the implications of the scientific research on society. One film-maker who does that well is Brady Haran, mastermind of various YouTube series including Numberfile and Periodic Table.

One of the other types of scientific video discussed yesterday was the video abstract (VA) – a visual summary produced by academics to accompany research papers. Here at IOP Publishing, we have been publishing VAs since 2010 alongside articles published in New Journal of Physics (NJP) and we now offer them for a handful of other journals and with our ebooks. They give authors an opportunity to present their key findings in an accessible way and to reach out to wider audiences.

As one of the speakers Attila Dávid Molnár pointed out, there is not really any agreed definition on what VAs are and what purpose they serve. Having trained as a bioscientist, Molnár has worked for nearly two decades as a documentary film-maker and now trains scientists on how to create engaging and effective video abstracts via the Popular Science Video Workshop, which he set up with his colleague Attila Andics. Molnár said authors should think of the VA as a “trailer” for the research presented in the paper. When I caught up with Molnár, he told me that the physicists he’s worked with are particularly creative with their VAs. Perhaps it’s because physicists are not afraid to tinker around with technologies and have experience of visualizing abstract concepts.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included the use of video in software development and the way film festivals and other film curators could use new video platforms to share their collections with public libraries. For further information about all of the topics discussed in this post you can check out the free-to-access papers that accompanied the presentations. Fittingly, the workshop was also filmed, so I’ll share the recording with you once it’s available.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Comments are closed.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text