Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
[ E-mail ]

Contact: Scipak
American Association for the Advancement of Science

Gross, explosive and beautiful -- videos show the fun side of chemistry

The Periodic Table of Videos team.
[Photo by L. Gilligan-Lee]

What happens when a cheeseburger is dunked in hydrochloric acid? Or when cotton is doused with liquid oxygen and set on fire? How do you make a fire with pink and purple flames? You can find the answers in a set of short, chemistry-themed videos produced by University of Nottingham Professor Martyn Poliakoff, journalist Brady Haran, and the rest of their merry cast of characters.

The videos—which are available on YouTube or at periodicvideos.com, and which started by featuring each of the elements in the Periodic Table—involve chemical reactions to please any video-watching wise guy, science geek or not.

The Periodic Table of Videos has been chosen to receive the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE), which honors excellent online materials in science education. Each month, Science publishes an article by each recipient of the award, which explains the winning project. The article about the Periodic Table of Videos will be published on May 27.

While serious and accomplished as adults, Haran and Poliakoff bring their inner children to their video enterprise. Haran says that as a boy, he was "interested in that science-y and space-y stuff, and I never grew out of it." For Poliakoff's part, he looks back fondly on his early scientific education, remarking, "I was allowed to do any experiments I liked."

In videos, Poliakoff seems to enjoy telling stories as he explains each of the elements in the Periodic Table. His wry delivery, ever-changing chemistry-themed neckties, and a hairdo that provoked at least one third-grader to ask whether he might be Albert Einstein have made him an Internet sensation.

Poliakoff and his team are viewed in 200 countries, and people stop him in airports because they recognize him. The comments the many videos attract are numerous, wide-ranging in terms of their science import, and in some cases poignant.

"My name is David," one viewer wrote. "I am a senior in high school. I have been watching your videos for quite some time. The videos are so interesting and have inspired me to be a Chemistry Major in college. Because of the inspiration you and your team created through the videos, many kids from around my area have also decided to take the interesting and complex journey to becoming chemists as well."

POTV continues to grow, with videos about chemistry topics beyond the elements, such as segments that play off of the news, including a video produced after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan provoked radiation leaks at a nuclear plant. The site now hosts more than 300 videos.

Poliakoff says he hopes that publication of an essay in the journal Science will further expand the videos' audience. "I hope it will make more people watch."